Necessity is the Mother of Change: How Science has Changed Because of Coronavirus

Coronavirus has affected all of our lives in many ways. Now people work primarily at home and only go out when necessary. For science, especially research & medical, this new lifestyle has drastically affected the way we work.

One change most of us have heard us is the possible expediting of the vaccine process. A vaccine would normally take at least a year to produce, but reducing the restrictions would shorten that time period by at least a couple of months. However, the ethical implications may prevent such measures for going through as it is considered morally irresponsible to expose people to a dangerous virus without proper precautions. Rather than a complete change to the process, the process may be relaxed for the extenuating circumstances.

Additionally, coronavirus has impacted astronomy as many conferences have been canceled indefinitely. One suggestion has been to have conferences over the internet and even leave this system implemented for the future. Conferences this way would decrease the costs and carbon footprint. However, the lack of in-person communications may wear down the connections between colleagues.

Moreover, coronavirus has impacted the Mauna Kea protests as it is unsafe to have a large number of people in close proximity. Thus, the protestors have sent most people home despite the fact spring break should’ve been when they’d be the largest. They’ve also had to send home their elders to protect them from the virus.

Within just seven weeks, coronavirus has changed our entire lifestyle, from where we go to how we work to science processes. We all keep waiting for our lives to go back to normal, but it’s already obvious that science at the very least won’t be quite the same.


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How Space Telescopes Compare to Ground Telescopes

Considering the fact that most mountains are sacred land as well as the best place for telescopes, astronomers end up clashing with indigenous. However, one way to avoid stepping on the toes of indigenous people is to instead look to the sky. Making space telescopes would avoid indigenous land yet pose issues themselves.

With space telescopes, Earth’s atmosphere is no longer an issue as the telescope is above it. This means that space telescopes can both get clearer images and detect wavelengths that the Earth’s atmosphere blocks. Improvements in technology, such as adaptive optics, can mitigate, but it is still an issue nonetheless.

On the other hand, space telescopes are difficult to maintain and repair with all, except for Hubble, being unserviceable. In order to repair a space telescope like the Hubble telescope, astronauts have to be sent, which is an expensive, time-consuming, and possibly dangerous endeavor. Moreover, building and sending up the telescope is expensive and time-consuming as well. There can be issues with take-off and by the time the telescope is launched into orbit, newer and better technology has already been made. Furthermore, an excessive amount of space telescopes would interfere with the already established land telescopes.

Thus, although space telescopes can give better images, the time & money put into them is not sustainable in order to make a switch to just space telescopes. This is why both ground and space telescopes are used as they balance out the pros & cons of each other.


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What is the Thirty Meter Telescope?

TMT is an incredibly large telescope that will allow astronomers to see deeper into space then they have ever before. This telescope observes wavelengths from ultraviolet to mid-infrared, allowing astronomers to analyze the nature of “first light” objects, to learn about star and planet formation, investigate the nature of dark matter, and discover the development of large scale structures.

This is all the result of the large-diameter telescope. The significant size of the telescope results in improved spatial resolution and increased sensitivity. This allows for astronomers to see sharper images and thus analyze smaller and farther objects. The increased sensitivity will allow astronomers to see faint & distance stars, planets, and galaxies and measure the properties of these stellar objects quicker than ever before.

In order to ensure the best conditions for the telescope, Mauna Kea has been chosen as the prime location. This would be a stable, dry, & cold environment above 40% of Earth’s atmosphere. With less atmosphere for light to travel through, the seeing is significantly better atop of Mauna Kea than areas farther below Earth’s atmosphere.

With a telescope as ambitious as TMT and a location as effective as Mauna Kea, astronomers believe TMT may open up more of the universe for us to explore.

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The Economic Impact of TMT & Protestors

The TMT itself is a billion dollar project due to the size and ambitious nature of the project. However, the protests have caused the costs of this project to drastically increase. Due to the large number of protesters, law enforcement has been called in to prevent any dangerous situations from happening. As a result, over several months of protest, law enforcement alone has cost Hawaii 1.6 million dollars. The total costs of the protests have been 12 million dollars. Protestors are also attempting to prevent TMT from receiving federal aid due to the opposition posed by the indigenous people.

Additionally, the financial cost of maintaining TMT along with the other telescopes on Mauna Kea has cost UH around 2 million dollars a year, a significant financial burden on Hawaii. To lower this unsustainable number, the Governor has ordered UH to decommission less effective telescopes.

However, despite these costs, supporters of TMT argue that this giant telescope will earn the state a significant amount of income. Due to the rising cost of travel as fuel costs rise and the economy suffers financial crises, tourism, which makes up a large portion of the income for Hawaii, has been decreasing. By building TMT, high paying jobs will be created as this large telescope will need technically trained workers. This is seen as a possible way for the local community to benefit from the telescope. Thus, despite the costs, many supporters believe TMT will ultimately positively help the economy of Hawaii.


TMT vs. The Indigenous People: The Indigenous People’s Heritage

Poli’ahu, the beautiful snow goddess, lives on the summit of Mauna Kea. After a fierce battle with the fire goddess Pele, she managed to outsmart pele and prevent the volcano from erupting. She still coats the mountain top of Mauna Kea to keep Pele at bay.

For the indigenous people, this mythology is a significant part of their heritage as Poli’ahu is one of their most important gods. Frightened that their sacred land will be desecrated, dozens of indigenous Hawaiian people raced to stand their ground at the foot of the mountain by singing, dancing, and chanting.

The indigenous people are willing to stay at Mauna Kea as long as needed to prevent the construction of Mauna Kea. In order to protect their sacred land, Hawaiian researchers are pushing Astro2020, which is 8 white pages which state that federal money cannot be given to projects not approved by the indigenous people.

For the indigenous people, Mauna Kea isn’t just some mountain. As kia’i leader Noe Noe Wong-Wilson said “we ask TMT not to build. It’s not about the science. It is sacred. It belongs to the god.”

This a fight to defend their heritage from a powerful, government-backed figure. The indigenous people refuse to give up any more of their land. Until TMT backs down, Hawaiian protesters will continue to sing, dance, and chant to protect their Mauna Kea


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