Earlier this week, protests flared up once again at an International Astronomical Union (IAU) meeting over the planned construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Nature’s Alexandra Witze wrote a good article covering the protests by Native Hawaiians.

According to Witze, protesters were holding signs that read “TMT: no more desecration,” and “We don’t want your big toy telescopes on our sacred mountain.”

The protests stem from where the Thirty Meter Telescope is being built – Mauna Kea. Many native Hawaiians consider Mauna Kea one of their most sacred places.

A dozen telescopes dot the area around the mountain’s summit. This image shows where the various observatories are located and where the Thirty Meter Telescope will sit.

mauna kea observatories

Protests about telescopes on Mauna Kea have been going on since the first telescope was being constructed, but the protests surrounding the Thirty Meter Telescope are gaining the most media attention.

What makes Mauna Kea such a good location for telescopes?

Several of Mauna Kea’s features make it perfect for ground-based observations.

It’s away from city lights. Any amateur astronomer knows getting away from light sources is a must for getting the best look at the night sky.

The most important feature though is its low humidity. Extremely dry air is a must for large telescopes. Clear skies and as little atmospheric disturbances as possible are vital for ground-based observations.

The Thirty Meter Telescope

While construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope is on hold right now, let’s take deeper look into the proposed telescope.

Once built, the Thirty Meter Telescope will be the most advanced optical, near-infrared and mid-infrared observatory in the world.

It will give astronomers detailed observations of the universe’s earliest stars and galaxies. According to the official TMT website, “the signatures of the chemically unevolved Population III sources and studies of the resulting chemical enrichment of the young Universe are within reach of the TMT.”

The Thirty Meter Telescope wasn’t designed just to observe the far reaches of the Universe. It will also study our solar system. It’s integrated optics system can “achieve a resolution of approximately 8 milliarcseconds at a wavelength of 1 µm, which corresponds to 25 kilometers at the distance of Jupiter.” In-depth observations of the outer planets’ atmosphere will be possible. The TMT will also expand research into the Kuiper Belt Region.

Will the Thirty Meter Telescope be built? It has approval from Hawaii’s state government, but a meeting between astronomers and demonstrators may happen next week to talk about their concerns.


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