Alternate sites considered for embattled giant telescope (Update)

February 11, 2016 byJennifer Sinco Kelleher

A group building one of the world's largest telescopes wants to start construction no later than April 2018— even if that means it will have to build the telescope somewhere other than Hawaii.

The Thirty Meter Telescope board decided last week to start identifying alternate sites in case the telescope can't be built on Hawaii's tallest mountain, where protesters invoking the sacredness of the land have blocked construction from progressing.

"We've made a major investment so far in getting ready for construction, and there are certainly some challenges still ahead within Hawaii so we feel we need an alternate site," Executive Director Ed Stone said. "We need to develop an alternate site so that we have that as an option if we need it."

The $1.4 billion telescope was supposed to start construction in April 2015. It's not yet known how much a three-year delay will add to the total cost of the project. The global project's partners have already invested $170 million through the end of last year for "designing and developing and getting ready—and we are ready—to begin construction on the mountain," Stone said.

The state Supreme Court in December ruled the state land board should not have issued a permit for the telescope before it held a hearing to evaluate a petition by a group challenging the project's approval. The ruling sent the matter back for a new contested case hearing.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is searching for a hearings officer in anticipation of the proceedings.

In order to begin construction by April 2018, telescope officials need to know by September 2017 that they will have access to Mauna Kea, Stone said.

Mauna Kea, selected over Chile's Cerro Armazones mountain in 2009, remains the preferred site, Stone said. Astronomers prefer Mauna Kea because its summit is well above the clouds, and it provides a clear view of the sky for 300 days a year. There's also very little air and light pollution.

It's too early to say which other high mountains could be alternate sites, Stone said. There will be a "full analysis of where there are sites that we can build TMT on, which will give us the science we're anxious to do," he said.

"Well, they should be looking at alternate sites," said Kealoha Pisciotta, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the permit.

She called the threat of the project leaving Hawaii "a measure to try to pressure somebody to make things happen faster than they should happen."

Stone denied that allegation: "It's not applying pressure. This is just what we need to do to build this telescope."

Explore further: Telescope equipment coming down from Hawaiian mountain

Related Stories

Telescope equipment coming down from Hawaiian mountain

December 16, 2015

Construction equipment and vehicles that have sat idle since protesters blocked crews from building a giant telescope are being removed from a mountain that's considered sacred to some Native Hawaiians.

Hawaii Supreme Court voids telescope construction permit

December 3, 2015

A long-awaited Hawaii Supreme Court ruling Wednesday invalidating a construction permit for what would be one of the world's largest telescopes represents a major setback for the $1.4 billion project on a mountain astronomers ...

Hawaii governor says telescope-construction timeout extended

April 12, 2015

Hawaii Gov. David Ige said Saturday that a nonprofit company planning to build one of the world's largest telescopes atop a mountain many Native Hawaiians consider sacred will maintain a moratorium on construction for another ...

Recommended for you

Giant radio flare of Cygnus X-3 detected by astronomers

December 7, 2016

(Phys.org)—Russian astronomers have recently observed a giant radio flare from a strong X-ray binary source known as Cygnus X-3 (Cyg X-3 for short). The flare occurred after more than five years of quiescence of this source. ...

Dark matter may be smoother than expected

December 7, 2016

Analysis of a giant new galaxy survey, made with ESO's VLT Survey Telescope in Chile, suggests that dark matter may be less dense and more smoothly distributed throughout space than previously thought. An international team ...

Earth's days getting longer: study (Update)

December 7, 2016

Earth's days are getting longer but you're not likely to notice any time soon—it would take about 3.3 million years to gain just one minute, according to a study published on Wednesday.

New evidence for a warmer and wetter early Mars

December 7, 2016

A recent study from ESA's Mars Express and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provides new evidence for a warm young Mars that hosted water across a geologically long timescale, rather than in short episodic bursts ...

ExoMars orbiter images Phobos

December 7, 2016

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter has imaged the martian moon Phobos as part of a second set of test science measurements made since it arrived at the Red Planet on 19 October.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Squirrel
not rated yet Feb 12, 2016
What could add more sacredness to a place that honor it with eyes that can see the birth of the infinite that shines brightly above?
nuncestbibendum
5 / 5 (1) Feb 12, 2016
Chalk up another victory for superstition and ignorance.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.