Thirty Meter Telescope

Construction on $1.4bn telescope stopped by local Hawaiians on religious grounds

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Local protestors have gathered at the base of a Hawaii mountain to stop the construction of the $1.4bn (£1.1bn) Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) as it violates one of their holy sites.

The TMT is intended to be placed at the peak of the tallest volcano in Hawaii, Mauna Kea, as it is one of the best places on Earth to view space.

The summit is at such a high altitude (3.06km above sea level) that it is above a significant fraction of the atmosphere, allowing for far less “noisy” observations from ground-based telescopes.

The TMT was originally approved in 2011 but has faced considerable opposition from locals since then which halted its construction. Approval to restart the project was granted in 2017.

The protests have also prevented astronomers from looking through the 13 telescopes that have already been built at the top of Mauna Kea, leaving dozens of researches around the world without the ability to gather data and study the skies.

Activists have chained themselves to a metal grate on the road preventing construction equipment for the TMT being transported to the top.

“We do not want this [telescope] on this mountain,” Walter Ritte, one of the activists, told Hawaii News Now.

“This mountain represents more than just their building they want to build. This mountain represents the last thing they want to take that we will not give them.”

Hawaii authorities have not arrested any protesters so far but have indicated that they would.

Jessica Dempsey, the deputy director of one of the existing telescopes, the East Asian Observatory, said consistent access to the summit is needed to ensure the safety of staff.

“Our science time is precious but in this case, our priority is just to make sure all of our staff is safe,” she said.

The East Asian Observatory was scheduled to study carbon monoxide clouds in star-forming regions inside the Milky Way galaxy.

Dempsey called the clouds “the DNA of how baby stars form” and said they help astronomers figure out how stars work.

Protesters said they told law enforcement they would allow telescope technicians to pass so long as they would be allowed to drive one car to the summit each day for cultural and religious practices.

They said they would not allow National Guard members to pass.

No agreement was reached.

“We are at a standstill,” said Kaho’okahi Kanuha, one of the protest leaders.

Other Native Hawaiians say they do not believe the telescope will desecrate Mauna Kea.

Most of the cultural practices on the mountain take place away from the summit, said Annette Reyes, a Native Hawaiian from the Big Island.

“It’s going to be out of sight, out of mind,” she said.

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