Neil deGrasse Tyson on TMT: What would ancient Polynesian navigators think?

Neil deGrasse Tyson on TMT: What would ancient Polynesian navigators think?
File-This May 13, 2019, file photo shows Neil Degrasse Tyson attending the 23rd annual Webby Awards at Cipriani Wall Street in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP, File) (Source: Christopher Smith)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of the world’s most well-known astrophysicists, published an opinion piece on the Thirty Meter Telescope controversy on Wednesday, offering another perspective he says “may have been overlooked in the heat of debates.”

In the 750-word note called “Hawaii’s Conduit to the Cosmos” posted on his Facebook page, he explained why Mauna Kea is the best observing site on Earth due to its isolation in the middle of the ocean, away from city lights and close to waters that can help bring optimal views of outer space.

Mauna Kea is also proposed as the site for “the next generation of the world’s largest telescope,” also known as the Thirty Meter Telescope, he wrote.

However, the project has been the source of major controversy among Native Hawaiians who consider Mauna Kea sacred and also represents “another mark of unwelcomed European colonization.”

He wrote: “My only opinion here is that the people of Hawaii (however its residents choose to define this), and not anyone else, should be the ones who determine the fate of Mauna Kea’s summit. It’s their mountain. It’s their state.”

But deGrasse Tyson brought up another point worth examining: The greatest navigators in the history of the world were Polynesians who discovered, mapped and settled in many of the islands in the Pacific. And they did this by using the sun, moon and stars.

So what would the ancient Polynesians say about “the world’s largest instrument of navigation” being used on an island they discovered?

That’s one question he poses in his note.

The thought came to mind after deGrasse Tyson interviewed Nainoa Thompson, master navigator for the Hokulea, for “StarTalk” on National Geographic. In the interview, he discussed how Polynesians used the stars to navigate.

Thompson has not yet weighed in publicly on the TMT debate.

Another question that deGrasse Tyson raises in his piece: “Whatever is your concept of the divine forces that created and shaped our universe, might the discoveries of modern astrophysics bring you closer to them?”

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