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Home » Space News » Thirty Meter Telescope Gets Approval; Legal Battle Ongoing
An artist's concept of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Image credit
An artist's concept of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Image credit

Thirty Meter Telescope Gets Approval; Legal Battle Ongoing

A planned thirty-meter telescope has been approved by Hawaii’s Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR). This is the latest chapter in the battle between the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT), which plans to build the telescope on the Mauna Kea volcano, and organizations representing native Hawaiians who claim that the site is sacred. Environmentalists have also weighed in with concerns about the telescope’s impact on the local ecosystem.

Chief Opponents Include Native Hawaiian Rights Activists

An aerial view -- artist's rendering of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Image credit
An aerial view — artist’s rendering of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Image credit

The Hawaii Supreme Court had previously put a halt to construction by ruling against the Thirty-Meter Telescope, reasoning that a subleasing agreement between the TMT and the University of Hawaii was invalid because the BLNR had failed to adequately consider objections by holding a contested case hearing. The plaintiff represented by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. called it a win for Native Hawaiian rights.

Native Hawaiian rights groups say that they intend to appeal the BLNR’s latest decision to the Hawaii Supreme Court, so the TMT may not be out of the proverbial woods yet. Light pollution is a major factor when choosing a location for a ground-based scientific telescope and there are only a limited places on Earth that are suitable for a megatelescope like the TMT. If the TMT’s backers fail to win this latest round of legal fighting, they may decide to build the $1.4 billion telescope in their backup location at the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos on La Palma, in the Canary Islands.

TMT Will Add Megascope Capacity For Advanced Astronomical Studies

Plans for building the TMT include 492 mirror segments that will be integrated into a 30-meter light-gathering surface. Once the TMT clears all legal hurdles, construction can still be completed by the early- to mid-2020s, which will bring it online at about the same time frame as two other planned megatelescopes, the European Extremely Large Telescope and the Giant Magellan Telescope. The telescope will be capable of participating in a wide range of studies ranging from detecting and classifying exoplanets to studying the effects of dark energy and matter.

Naturally, this may inspire some Joker memes along the lines of, “Hawaii builds hotels on every scrap of land that might conceivably attract tourists and nobody bats an eye, but build one telescope and everybody loses their minds.” It will be interesting to see how the latest round of the legal battle between the TMT and Native Hawaiian rights groups play out. Will the project go ahead as planned? Or will its backers have to move to their backup site in the Canary Islands? Stay tuned…

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About Heidi Hecht

Heidi Hecht is a space geek, freelance content writer and owner of the Nothing in Particular Blog. She is also a published author with a new book, "Blockchain Space: How And Why Cryptocurrencies Fit Into The Space Age", now available on Amazon and Google Play.

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