Hawaiian Supreme Court Approves Giant Telescope on Mauna Kea

Hawaiian Supreme Court Approves Giant Telescope on Mauna Kea

After years of hearings and litigation, the Supreme Court of Hawaii on Tuesday approved a building permit for a giant telescope on the ancient, contested site of the volcano Mauna Kea.

The Thirty Meter Telescope, as it is known, would be the largest ever contemplated in the Northern Hemisphere. Hawaiian activists have opposed it, saying that decades of telescope-building on Mauna Kea have polluted the mountain. Some of them went so far as to block construction vehicles from the mountain to prevent work on the telescope.

Mauna Kea is considered “ceded land” that belonged to the Hawaiian kingdom, and some Hawaiians have contended that the spate of telescope construction on the volcano’s mountaintop has interfered with cultural and religious practices.

The telescope would be built by an international collaboration called the TMT International Observatory, spearheaded by the University of California and the California Institute of Technology but also including Japan, China, India and Canada at an estimated cost of $2 billion.

Three years ago, the state’s Supreme Court invalidated a previous construction permit on the grounds that the opponents had been deprived of due process because a state board had granted the permit before the opponents could be heard in a so-called contested case hearing.

At the time, the TMT astronomers said they would build their telescope in the Canary Islands if denied in Hawaii, setting a deadline of last April.

A spokeswoman for the TMT collaboration said nothing would happen right away on the mountaintop, and that it would take time to coordinate with the mayor and the state.

The observatory issued a statement on Tuesday from Henry Yang, chairman of its board of governors and chancellor of the University of California, Santa Barbara, thanking the telescope’s supporters. “We remain committed to being good stewards on the mountain and inclusive of the Hawaiian community,” he said.

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