In DepthAstronomy

New front emerges in battle to build giant telescope in Hawaii

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Science  17 Jan 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6475, pp. 236-237
DOI: 10.1126/science.367.6475.236

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Summary

Like medieval armies calling a halt to war in winter, the two sides contesting the soul of Mauna Kea, a peak on Hawaii's Big Island, agreed last month to a 2-month truce: The consortium that wants to build the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on the peak will not attempt to start construction, and the residents of a camp—who see themselves as the mountain's protectors, or kia'i—have moved their tents from the road leading to the summit, allowing unimpeded access. Behind the scenes, TMT board members and funders are meeting with Native Hawaiian leaders—some of whom support the project—but this has yet to yield any solutions. Now, the $1.4 billion TMT is facing another front in its battle to be one of three new giant telescopes—and the only one in the Northern Hemisphere. TMT opponents—including some astronomers—are seeking to win over the wider astronomy community to stop its construction. In a press conference outside the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Honolulu last week, a group of Hawaiian researchers announced the submission of eight white papers to the decadal survey in astronomy, known as Astro2020, a priority-setting exercise that influences U.S. funding agencies. They want Astro2020 to ensure that no federal money is used to build on state land without the consent of local Indigenous people. And federal money is just what the TMT needs. In a joint pitch to Astro2020 with one of its two rivals, the U.S.-led Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile, the projects are asking for money that would fill budget holes and provide observing time for U.S. astronomers.

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