Plans to build the world’s largest reflecting telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii island may be abandoned following popular protests and a legal challenge.
The Thirty Metre Telescope (TMT) was to have been completed by 2022, at which time it would have had the largest reflecting dish ever constructed. However, construction was stalled in 2014 after claims that it was to be built on land sacred to Hawaii’s Polynesian natives. Doubts about the project’s chances of success were intensified in December last year when Hawaii’s supreme court invalidated the project’s work permit.
It has now been decided to relocate the telescope to the Canary Islands if it turns out the Hawaiian plan cannot go ahead.
Henry Yang, chairman of the TMT’s international observatory board, said: "After careful deliberation, the board of governors has identified Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos on La Palma as the primary alternative to Hawaii."
He added that the board would continue to work towards a resolution of the Hawaiian impasse.
The 14,000ft summit of Mauna Kea is considered to be ideal for astronomical observation because of the absence of light pollution, low humidity, good weather and equatorial location. There are a number of other observatories in the area’s "Astronomy Precinct".
The site in La Palma also has a precinct that includes a number of facilities, including the 10.4m Gran Telescopio Canarias, the world’s largest single-aperture optical telescope as of July 2009.
When complete the $1.4bn TMT will stand 18-storeys tall.
TMT officials want to start construction no later than April 2018. If it is completed by 2022, it will probably be the world’s largest optical telescope for only two years, as the European Extremely Large Telescope, being built in Chile, will have a dish with a diameter of 39.3m.
Image: A rendering of the completed telescope (TMT)