Cultural Significance

Maunakea, or known by its original name Mauna a Wākea is a sacred place for Hawaiians. Wākea, sometimes translated as “Sky Father” is considered the father of the Hawaiian people.

While it is the dwelling place of the goddess Poliʻahu it is also associated with the Hawaiian deities Lilinoe and Waiau. The summit was considered realm of the gods and in ancient times kapu (forbidden) to all but the highest chiefs and priests. Occasionally Hawaiian aliʻi (royalty) would make the long trek to the top, the last royal visitor being Queen Emma in 1881 who lead her companions on the arduous 6-hour journey to the top to see the summit and rejuvenate herself in sacred Lake Waiau.

Maunakea remains a sacred place for the people of Hawaii today. On the third Saturday of every month the Maunakea Visitor Information Station hosts community speakers who will speak about Mauna O Wākea from a cultural perspective.

Astronomy on Maunakea

Hawaiʻi is Earth’s connecting point to the rest of the Universe. The summit of Mauna Kea offers the best conditions for optical, infrared and millimeter/submillimeter measurements. The mountain hosts the world's largest astronomical observatory, with telescopes operated by astronomers from eleven countries. The combined light-gathering power of the telescopes on Mauna Kea is fifteen times greater than that of the Palomar telescope in California -- for many years the world's largest -- and sixty times greater than that of the Hubble Space Telescope.

There are currently thirteen telescopes near the summit of Maunakea. Nine of them are for optical and infrared astronomy, three of them are for submillimeter wavelength astronomy and one is for radio astronomy. They include the second largest optical/infrared telescopes in the world (the Keck telescopes), the largest dedicated infrared telescope (UKIRT) and the largest submillimeter telescope in the world (the JCMT). The westernmost antenna of the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) is situated at a lower altitude two miles from the summit. The newest facility is the Thirty Meter Telescope, which is currently in planning. Two observatories have stopped operations in 2015 and will be decommissioned including the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo 0.9 meter educational telescope - Hoku Keʻa, and Caltech Submillimeter Observatory. A third observatory will be decommissioned in the near future.

More Information about Maunakea