thirty meter telescope
April 15, 2013

Thirty Meter Telescope Project Receives Approval From Hawaii Land Board

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

A plan to build the world´s largest telescope moved one step closer to becoming a reality on Friday, as the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) approved a plan to build the record-breaking instrument at the summit of Mauna Kea volcano.

According to Audrey McAvoy of the Associated Press (AP), the ruling allows the US and Canadian universities behind the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project to begin negotiating a sublease for the land with the University of Hawaii.

“Over the last several years, the TMT project has welcomed the support it has received from all sectors of the Hawaiian community, from education to cultural to business to labor,” Sandra Dawson, TMT's Manager of Hawaii Community Affairs, said in a statement Saturday. "We look forward to beginning construction and becoming a neighbor of the outstanding observatories on Mauna Kea."

“We are delighted that the TMT project has now been granted a Conservation District Use Permit,” added Edward Stone, a physics professor at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and vice chair of the TMT board. “The BLNR's decision is a vote of confidence for TMT advancing science while benefitting the greater Hawaiian community.”

The TMT would be capable of observing planets orbiting stars other than our sun, while also helping astronomers observe the formation of new planets and stars, McAvoy said. With the telescope, scientists should be able to see up to 13 billion light years away, allowing them to observe the universe during its earliest years.

The telescope will have a segmented mirror that is 30 meters long, giving it nine times the collecting area of the largest optical telescopes currently in use, the AP reporter added. It will also produce images that are three times sharper. The TMT is expected to cost more than one billion dollars to build.

While the TMT will be the world´s largest telescope, it may not hold that title for long, according to McAvoy, who reports that a coalition of European nations plant to build a larger instrument. That telescope, the European Extremely Large Telescope, which will have a mirror that is 138 feet (42 meters) long.

“Some Native Hawaiian groups had petitioned against the project, arguing it would defile the mountain's sacred summit. Native Hawaiian tradition holds that high altitudes are sacred and are a gateway to heaven,” McAvoy said. “Environmentalists also petitioned to stop the telescope on the grounds it would harm habitat for the rare wekiu bug. The board approved the project anyway, but imposed two dozen conditions including a requirement that employees be trained in culture and natural resources.”

“The TMT Board expresses our strong commitment to respect the long history and cultural significance of Mauna Kea to the Hawaiian people, and has committed annual funding for local community benefits and education in Hawaii,” said TMT Board Chair and University of California Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry Yang.

“We also want to reaffirm that we appreciate what we have learned about the cultural and religious significance of this sacred mountain, as well as the vital ecosystems it supports,” he added. “It is extremely important to all of us that the Thirty Meter Telescope will be able to make a contribution not only to the exploration of science, but also to the connection of science with humanities, culture, language, religion, environmental sustainability, and education, especially the education of future generations of children in Hawaii.”

The TMT project is a collaboration of Caltech, the University of California, the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, a consortium of Chinese institutions led by the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and institutions in India supported by the Department of Science and Technology of India.