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Tuesday, February 6, 2001

Astronomers urged to
learn, as well as teach

By Rod Thompson

HILO -- Astronomers from around the world meeting in Hilo to learn about astrophysical time also learned about Hawaiian culture yesterday.

Matt Mountain, head of the Gemini Observatory, told the 200 scientists from 20 countries that the Hawaiian view is that the universe was created out of "po," the blackness of night.

As kupuna Leilehua Omphroy and her daughter Kahalelaukoa Ell presented maile leis to dignitaries, Omphroy explained that they are left untied so the wearer's knowledge can flow out to others.

Referring to the observatories on Mauna Kea, Mayor Harry Kim said, "Please remember that there are people who look at the mountain not as science but as part of their soul."

Gov. Ben Cayetano said, "Open your hearts to a little bit of what you heard today. That is Hawaiian culture."

The occasion was the opening session of the weeklong First International Conference on Astrophysical Ages and Time Scales.

Astronomer Mountain pointed out that a certain Bishop Lightfoot in 1654 determined that the universe was created at 9 a.m. on Oct. 23, 4004 B.C. Astronomers now believe it was created 12 to 15 billion years ago, but they're not as precise as the bishop.

One purpose of the conference is to narrow the range of estimates.

Cayetano said the public has some awareness of high-tech and bio-tech activities, but "not much is known about the true significance of what you do. You need to help us raise the knowledge among the public, in particular our young people, of the importance of the work you do."

Cayetano said the state is committed to helping the astronomers, for example by dedicating a Hilo branch of the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy on Feb. 23.

About 30 percent of the institute's work will be transferred from Honolulu to Hilo, Cayetano said.

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