In Partnership with the Southern Weekend

Astronomy and culture align with the Thirty Meter Telescope

Sponsored by the nonprofit partnership of the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory

The first Native Hawaiians sought knowledge from the environment using the stars to navigate and guide their everyday lives. Many believe the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) and the science of astronomy is an extension of this, helping to advance human knowledge for the benefit of the community.

Kalepa Baybayan is a native Hawaiian and a science literacy advocate. He’s a strong supporter of astronomy because of the cross-pollination of new ideas that lead to technology that will benefit society. He explains that the creative process between engineers and researchers has led to the discovery and development of new technology, bringing innovations in imaging technology, communication platforms, and medical software.

As a native Hawaiian, Baybayan says his support of science and astronomy enhances his belief system. He explains that observational astronomy led oceanic canoe explorers to Hawaii’s shores, leaving the safety of the shoreline to discover the stars. Searching for new island homes they could settle, crews used their location within the tropics to devise a star compass to orient their canoes. Armed with the knowledge of how stars move between eastern and western horizons, they explored with confidence and mentally recorded the many locations of habitable islands throughout the pacific.

Baybayan says their ancestors and ali’i also have a long tradition of siding with the cause of science and technology.

In 1794, Captain George Vancouver sought permission to use a sweet potato field adjacent to Hikiau Heiau to site his observatory, although he was denied access initially. Kamehameha the Great consulted with the local priest, and Vancouver was granted permission to locate his observatory there.

In 1831, with the approval of the Hawaiian government, Lahainaluna High School was established. It was the first institution of higher education west of the Rockies and the curriculum focused on arithmetic, natural history, geography, writing, advanced math, and astronomy.

In 1874, with the permission of King Kalākaua, the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, England, was granted permission to establish three stations in Hawaii to observe a very rare transit of Venus for the purpose of determining the Astronomical Unit, which became the unit of measure for the Earth-sun distance and will provide an absolute scale for measuring our solar system. Stations were established at Apua, Oahu; Waimea, Kauai; and Kailua-Kona on Hawaii Island.

King Kalākaua is also noted for bringing electricity and telephones to Hawaii because he wanted the islands to be a leader in innovation.

Baybayan’s hope is that the community can use these examples to find a way to accept and accommodate science, and make a positive contribution to humanity.

For more information: MaunakeaAndTMT.org, Facebook.com/TMTHawaii, @TMTHawaii