Claims should be taken with a grain of salt

//Claims should be taken with a grain of salt

The champions of Arizona or California as the chosen site challenged claims by University of Hawaii and other astronomers for the excellence of Maunakea as an observatory site, despite good evidence to that end. Opponents of Maunakea claimed insurmountable difficulties with operating at such a high altitude, including huge operating costs, serious health concerns for astronomers and technicians, and violent weather. It was claimed by some that a hurricane passing over the island would lower atmospheric pressure to the point of asphyxiation of observatory staff. And so on.

Most of this was self-serving nonsense, and cooler heads prevailed after the Keck Foundation contributed funding for the observatory, to be named after W.M. Keck. Astronomers — even some of those from competing states — came to see the evident advantages of siting the telescope at a site of unrivaled excellence.

The performance of the Keck telescopes and those to come after them has amply justified the decision to put the world’s largest telescopes at Maunakea, and technical arguments to put them elsewhere now seem silly (although many were probably well-meant at the time).

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