Telescopes like Hawaii’s Thirty Meter Telescope are impressive structures designed and built by humankind to peer off into space and uncover worlds we didn’t even know existed. However, the telescopes we have now are limited by the technology of their time.
The good news is that the current technology allows us to build bigger telescopes to see farther away into space. For now, there are several projects in the works, and one of them is the one designed by the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) International Observatory, which should have a 30m diameter prime mirror.
However, because of its location (below the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii), construction has been delayed ever since 2014.
The Main Reason Behind the TMT Delays
Mauna Kea is a sacred area for the natives, and local organizations and celebrities (among which, you’ll find Jason Momoa) gathered to protest and stop the construction project. Plus, the area is protected by the Historic Conservation Act.
According to local legends, the extinct volcano is the location where Sky Father joined Mother Earth and created the Hawaiian archipelago. Therefore, the top of Mauna Kea is important for the local culture. Plus, the TMT is one of the largest and tallest buildings planned in the area (while there are currently 13 telescopes on Mauna Kea), and the locals fear for the integrity of their sacred volcano.
Also, the project may have some financial issues as well. According to a legal action forwarded by a group of local organizations, the project doesn’t comply with the rules of a 1977 management plan for Mauna Kea.
This plan requires the project holders to post a security bond equivalent to the construction contract cost (which hasn’t happened). If the bond isn’t posted, the financial liability for the project falls on the people of Hawaii if the TMT doesn’t get full funding.
Is There a Way to Move Forward with the Construction?
For now, there isn’t a clear resolution to this problem. Plus, many of the permits TIO obtained to start construction are suspended or expired. So, there are no imminent plans to restart construction.
So, what happens in the meantime?
Hawaii has other impressive construction projects planned for the near future that have better chances of becoming a reality, but the TIO doesn’t seem ready to give this one up yet. The reason for this is that the volcano has ideal conditions for observatories. The altitude (4.200m) is just right, and the summit’s clear sky is magnificent for astronomical observations.
Keeping the Construction Equipment Secure
The construction of the TMT was already started back in 2014, so part of the materials and equipment was brought to the top of the mountain. The ones that stayed there had to be protected from the elements and ill-intended actors, so the builders had to implement a robust security system.
This means light and temperature sensors, access control systems, fencing, and more. All these products can be purchased from a reliable provider, like EMX Industries, and installed rather quickly to make sure your construction equipment stays safe regardless of the length of the project.
Plans for the Future
While TIO has a few other options around the world, the Mauna Kea project has the most benefits from an astronomy point of view. Scientists and supporters of the TMT say the new telescope would help us uncover corners of the universe the human eye was never able to explore, so it’s exciting to think about it.
For now, the project is stalled, but the initiators and supporters continue to look for ways to protect the volcano and its natural resources and to get the TMT construction back into gear. At this point, only time will tell if the Mauna Kea volcano will have a giant telescope or not.