Mauna Kea, the rules for telescopes change


The works for the highly controversial Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), the megatelescope with a 30-meter diameter mirror that will rise in the coming years on the summit of the Mauna Kea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii, are starting again.

The price to pay. In exchange, however, a quarter of the telescopes already on the mountain will have to be dismantled before 2024, the year in which the TMT should come into operation. It is the decision of the governor of Hawaii, David Ige, who arrives at the end of months of protests against the pharaonic project of the new astronomical observatory.

No one touches the mountain. The volcano Mauna Kea, which rises in the middle of the Pacific, offers perfect visibility conditions from an astronomical point of view (low humidity, almost no light and atmospheric pollution), but for the Hawaiians it is sacred: according to the local culture it would have played a decisive role in the creation of the Earth.

Previous. The Hawaiian population had already had to accept, in spite of itself, the complex of the 13 telescopes that are part of the Mauna Kea Observatory, including the famous Gemini North Telescope and the Keck Observatory. The network of telescopes built since the mid-1960s, is located within an "astronomical enclosure" in an area protected by the Historical Preservation Act, an agreement for the protection of areas of historical and cultural interest of the natives.

The classic "drop". But the announcement of the works for the telescope of the records, which should occupy a total area of ​​655 m² right on the top of the mountain, at an altitude of 4, 050 meters, and costing about 1.3 billion euros, was seen as the yet another violation of a place already deprived of the respect it deserves.

Image An illustration shows the position of the TMT (left, bottom) compared to the telescopes already present on Mauna Kea. | TMT

The compromise. "We have already done badly to a very special place, " the governor declared on May 26th. The works, which had been interrupted in April due to the protests, could continue, but "the University of Hawaii, which manages the space of the scientific reserve on the mountain, must dismantle as many telescopes as possible, starting from this year and up to 25% for the year in which the TMT will come into operation. »

No surprise. Many of the complex's telescopes had already announced the next closure, due to the principle that such a scientifically special place should host only the best of technology currently available. Ige's words are probably intended to speed up this process.