Astronomers in Hawaii say there’s nowhere else on the planet where a colossal telescope could peer into space with the clarity and depth of what’s possible from atop Mauna Kea, a massive volcano on the Big Island.
But the Hawaii Supreme Court says the state did not follow the proper process when they granted a construction permit to the University of Hawaii for the Thirty Meter Telescope. Specifically, the justices said Hawaii’s land board failed to hold a required hearing to evaluate a petition by groups that opposed the project.
“Quite simply, the Board put the cart before the horse,” the justices wrote in a ruling filed on Wednesday. “Accordingly, the permit cannot stand.”
The decision is a victory for those who oppose the telescope project, including some Native Hawaiians, activists, and other cultural practitioners. Mauna Kea is sacred to Hawaiians, and the site in question is designated state conservation land. For astronomers, the setback is crushing. “If TMT goes under, it will be absolutely devastating for Hawaii astronomy, which is to say Northern Hemisphere astronomy,” Doug Simons, an astronomer and the executive director of the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope on Mauna Kea, told me in October.