by Salman Hameed
I have regularly provided an update on the controversy over telescopes on top of Mauna Kea, Hawaii (see here for links to earlier posts). The central issue has been the proposed construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on the volcanic mountaintop held sacred by some groups of Native Hawaiians, and hosts flora and fauna on the candidate list of endangered species. After numerous rounds of permissions, the TMT has been given the final go-ahead:
Hawaiian officials have granted a permit for the planned Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) to proceed atop the sacred mountain of Mauna Kea, project officials announced on 13 April.
The move clears the way for construction to start, as early as April 2014, atop the 4,200-metre-high summit. Thirteen telescopes already dot the mountain, but the TMT would be the largest of them by far. The biggest optical telescopes now atop Mauna Kea are the twin 10-metre Keck telescopes.
Development on the mountain is a sensitive subject in Hawaii. In 2011, the state’s board of land and natural resources granted a conditional permit to construct the TMT. Opponents pursued a contested case hearing under a board officer. The new decision confirms the original permit granting and moves the TMT forward for good.Of course, this is tricky subject. On the one hand, this is good for astronomy and the economy of the island. But this comes at the expense of others who feel marginalized in this matter. The TMT folks, it seems, did make an effort to reach out and hold regular town hall meetings to at least listen to the grievances of the local community. However, the history of the US involvement in Hawaii is so messy that it is unlikely that the issue can ever be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. Indeed, the opponents of the telescope have vowed to keep on fighting - but I think the game is over on this matter:
One of the leading groups opposed to building the world's largest telescope at the summit of Hawaii's revered Mauna Kea volcano vows the fight against the space exploration site is far from over, despite a state panel's vote last week in favor of the project.
"We're not going to go away because of one bad ruling," Nelson Ho, co-chair of the Mauna Kea Issues Committee from the Sierra Club's Hawaii Chapter, told Latinos Post. "We're in the early rounds of the boxing match and this is a twelve-rounder."
Hawaii's Board of Land and Natural Resources approved plans for the so-called Thirty Meter Telescope, a collaboration between the University of California system, the California Institute of Technology, or, Caltech, and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy. China, India and Japan have also joined the effort as governmental partners.
According to a report in the Associated Press, the telescope's primary mirror would measure nearly 100 feet (30 meters) long and be able to collect data from an area nine times greater than that scanned by the largest optical telescopes used today.
The Thirty Meter Telescope's images would also be three times sharper than anything currently captured.
That improved range and strength would help researchers see an estimated 13 billion light years away.
The next procedural step for the group spearheading the TMT project is to negotiate a sublease for the site with the University of Hawaii, which itself leases the summit area from the state.
The Sierra Club and a handful of other environmental and Native Hawaiian culture organizations assert the TMT will severely damage the area atop the volcano, which Native Hawaiian traditions hold as sacred, a gateway to the afterlife that once only high chiefs and spiritual leaders were allowed to visit.
At least one ancient burial site is confirmed on the mountain, which naturalists also say is one of the last pristine environments in Hawaii, let alone the world.
When it was planning the since-abandoned Outrigger Telescoping Project on Mauna Kea in the early 2000s, the National Aeronautical and Space Administration completed a study of the environmental impact of astronomical research facilities on the area, which in part concluded, "From a cumulative perspective, the impact of past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future activities on cultural and biological resources is substantial, adverse and significant."Read the full article here.
If interested, you can find earlier posts on the topic here:
Mauna Kea Observatories Update Is it good news that Maui is picked as the site for a new Solar telescope?