Hawaii has revoked the permit to build a huge telescope. The ideal location to stargaze on which the telescope was to be built is considered sacred by the natives.
The Hawaii Supreme Court revoked the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) collaboration’s permit to build on the summit of Mauna Kea, reported Astronomy. The court essentially invalidated the permission for one of the largest, and not to mention most advanced, telescopes. Apparently, the ground on which the telescope was going to be erected is revered. The ruling is not just a major setback for the $1.4 billion project, but also for astronomers who know the mountain possesses the ideal conditions to gaze at the night sky. The observatory’s construction period will now be extended by many months, if not years, as the developers will have to begin the entire legal application process to secure a site from scratch.
The ruling is a major victory for the various groups that united to fight the project. The natives strongly intended to curb development on the islands to protect and preserve Native Hawaiian culture. Moreover, the local culture considers the Big Island’s Mauna Kea a very holy place, and any development on the land would be desecration of the mountain,.
Interestingly, the Board of Land and Natural Resources originally granted the permit in 2011, reported the Huffington Post. Construction was set to begin in April this year, but was regularly delayed by groups of natives. A subsequent stay by the Hawaii Supreme Court in November truly hit the brakes on all construction activities.
The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled the state Board of Land and Natural Resources should not have issued a permit for the telescope before a hearings officer reviewed a petition by a group challenging the project’s approval, reported ABC News. Protesters were granted the right to put forth their concerns, but the board approved the permit even before a hearing could take place, forcing the court to note that the board had violated “due process.” Reprimanding the board for its actions, Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald noted the following.
“Quite simply, the board put the cart before the horse.”
Big Island’s Mauna Kea has always been considered one of the best sites in the world for observing the sky and stargaze. Factors such as a low altitude, extremely low light pollution, and mild air currents could have allowed the telescope to peer deep into the space for long periods of time. The extra-long exposure to a section of the sky allows any telescope to gather a lot of data. Space telescopes are known to affix their gaze to a selected section of sky for months at a time. Any disturbance can spoil the efforts.
Incidentally, Mauna Kea is already home to 13 observatories. However, many are to be decommissioned soon. The natives have always insisted that the mountaintop be restored to its original natural state, but they claim once the observatory serves its purpose, there is no action from the developers. It was the TMT’s approval that opened the floodgates for protests.
Will the TMT be ever constructed? While Hawaii Supreme Court may have revoked the permit, the collaboration can still reapply. However, the application process is a long, drawn-out one, and there’s no assurance that the natives won’t try to block construction activity. The collaboration released a statement that reads as follows.
“We thank the Hawaii Supreme Court for the timely ruling and we respect their decision. TMT will follow the process set forth by the state, as we always have. We are assessing our next steps on the way forward.”
The Mauna Kea conservation district is certainly a sensitive location for Hawaii’s natives, and they have made their disapproval about construction of giant telescopes known on numerous occasions, albeit without violence.
[Image via TMT Observatory Corporation/Wikimedia Commons]