One of the world’s largest telescope projects might have to change location. The plans to build one of the biggest telescope ever built might have to move to a different continent altogether. The Thirty Meter Telescope was going to be built in Hawaii. But local people protested against the build. Indigenous groups consider the proposed site of the build a sacred island. The project will cost a total of $1.4 billion by the time of its completion. But now that investment is going to have to go elsewhere. Another option for the Thirty Meter Telescope is a site in the Canary Islands in Spain.
The Perfect Location for the Thirty Meter Telescope
The Thirty Meter telescope might have to choose that alternative. The project is a significant one that has to go ahead, despite running into difficulties. It will enable scientists to study the early Universe and look at the atmospheres of exoplanets.
The Thirty Meter Telescope is one of a number of big observatories. Another one is the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). Yet another is the James Webb telescope that is space-based. These large telescopes are going to advance science and intend to serve astronomy well into the 2020s and beyond that.
The proposed site in Hawaii offered perfect conditions for an observatory. The Pacific skies are usually free of any clouds. There is low atmospheric water vapor. These as well as other attributes make Mauna Kea in Hawaii some of the best spots in the world for doing astronomy. But Mauna Kea is also a sacred site for the local population. So the project ran into opposition as soon as it was announced.
Opposition against the Telescope
The site where the Thirty Meter Telescope was going to be built was right below the summit of Mauna Kea. At 4,207 meters high, Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano. It is also one of the places on the island that have an important cultural significance for the people on the island.
For decades, local people have opposed the construction of observatories. For many Native Hawaiians, Mauna Kea is the most sacred mountain out of all the mountains on the island. They believe that there is a special connection between Mauna Kea and the deities of their religion. To them, any development of the site would equal desecration.
Other Hawaiians opposed the project to build the Thirty Meter Telescope for reasons that have to do with the environment and conservation efforts.
Construction for the telescope was going to begin in April 2015. But protesters blocked access roads to the site. That rendered construction crews unable to access the building site. The protests resulted in several arrests. But that did not deter the protesters. They continued their opposition to the observatory. Also, they pursued legal action against the build through the courts.
In December 2015, the Supreme Court of Hawaii State rescinded the construction permit that was issued in 2011 for the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope. The reasoning of the court was that the build received the permit before opponents could state their case against it.
“Quite simply, the board put the cart before the horse when it issued the permit,”
said Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald.
Image source: here.