The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) was originally set to make its’ home alongside 13 other observatories located over 4000 meters above sea level at Mauna Kea, Hawaii. According to astronomers, the high altitude on Mauna Kea, coupled with normally clear skies, made the Hawaiian mountaintop the ideal location for the telescope–but local Hawaiians disagreed.
Mauna Kea is seen by some Native Hawaiian groups as a sacred space, and view the presence of the telescopes on the summit as a desecration. Last year, protests at the site halted construction on the mountaintop, and now the board governing the construction of the telescope has come up with a plan B, just in case the construction in Hawaii continues to be delayed.
“After careful deliberation, the Board of Governors has identified Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos (ORM) on La Palma in the Canary Islands, Spain as the primary alternative to Hawaii.” Henry Yang, Chair of the TMT International Observatory (TIO) Board said in a statement.
There are drawbacks to the Canary Islands plan. Unlike Hawaii, the summit at ORM is much shorter, meaning that the TMT must contend with more atmosphere. The higher the altitude, the less atmosphere between the telescope and space, and smaller amounts of atmosphere mean a clearer picture.
“Mauna Kea continues to be the preferred choice for the location of the Thirty Meter Telescope, and the TIO Board will continue intensive efforts to gain approval for TMT in Hawaii. TIO is very grateful to all of our supporters and friends throughout Hawaii, and we deeply appreciate their continued support.” Yang said.
Wherever it is built, the TMT will be a huge boon to the astronomy community. The telescope’s 492 mirrors (30 meters across) could rival the clarity of the space-based Hubble Telescope, giving researchers an even deeper glimpse into the secrets of our universe.