Construction plans for the largest telescope on Earth remain uncertain, but a possible alternative future for the Thirty Meter Telescope project is beginning to take shape.
Plans for the massive observatory, originally intended to be built atop a huge shield volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii, have stalled out since last year amid a lawsuit from those who oppose the telescope project—including some Native Hawaiians, activists, and other cultural practitioners who believe the volcano, Mauna Kea, is sacred.
The Thirty Meter Telescope’s International Observatory Board decided late last month that if they cannot move forward with building the telescope in Hawaii, they will instead choose La Palma, one of Spain’s Canary Islands.
The Gran Telescopio Canarias, or Great Canary Telescope, is the massive reflecting telescope already located at La Palma. For now, it holds the distinction of being the largest single-aperture optical telescope in the world.
The nonprofit group that’s building the Thirty Meter Telescope began scoping out other sites for the $1.4 billion telescope this fall—including mountains in Chile, India, China, and Mexico, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
But Doug Simons, an astronomer and the executive director of the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope on Mauna Kea, emphasized to me that he and his colleagues aren’t giving up on Hawaii as the ultimate home for the TMT just yet. They still believe that Mauna Kea—with its high elevation and remote location in the middle of the Pacific—is the best place on the planet for the kind of scientific discovery that the TMT would enable, but “every site we considered would enable TMT’s core science programs,” said Henry Yang, chairman of the TMT International Observatory Board, in a statement.