Environmental study of the thirty-meter telescope has begun in the US

HONOLULU — The National Science Foundation said Tuesday it plans to conduct a study to assess the environmental impact of construction of one of the world’s largest optical telescopes on selected sites in Hawaii and Spain’s Canary Islands.

The agency published a notice in the Federal Register of its intention to prepare a $2.65 billion USD Thirty Meter Telescope Environmental Impact Statement.

For more than a decade, proponents of the telescope have been planning to build it at its preferred location atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s tallest mountain and one of the best places to view the night sky. But the native Hawaiians, who consider the mountaintop sacred, are fiercely opposed.

The National Science Foundation plans to hold four meetings on the Big Island of Hawaii in August. It said it will decide whether to fund the telescope until it considers public input, an environmental review, the technical readiness of the project and other factors.

Protesters in 2015 and 2019 have blocked construction crews, saying building a new telescope there would further pollute the site, which they say has already been damaged by dozens of other observatories.

The International TMT Observatory, an international consortium of scientists involved in the project, has chosen the Spanish island of La Palma off the west coast of Africa as an alternative if it cannot build in Hawaii.

in 2010 the group completed the environmental study required by Hawaiian law to build Mauna Kea.

The National Science Foundation must conduct a new study under US law to invest in the project because it is part of the federal government.

Last year, a report by the US Astronomical Society stated that TMT plans to receive 30% of the project’s estimated construction costs, or $800 million, from the US government.

TMT is a partnership between the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, and government-sponsored research institutions in Canada, China, India, and Japan.

Robert P. Kirshner, TMT’s executive director, said in an emailed statement that the federal funding will provide access to the observatory for the entire US astronomy community.

“This ensures that the TMT tests the best ideas and makes the most important observations to help understand where we are in the universe and how it works,” he said.

Opponents of the telescope criticized the new study, saying it would again force them to take the time of their lives to voice their opinions on the project, Kealoha Pisciotta said.

“Why don’t people take no for an answer?” said Pisciotta, who represents the Mauna Kea Hui and Mauna Kea Aina Hou groups that oppose the project.

October month. The US Astronomical Society said in a report that the National Science Foundation should invest in at least one or two of a new class of observatories called Extremely Large Telescopes being planned by US institutions.

TMT would cover the skies from the Northern Hemisphere. The project for the Giant Magellan Telescope, which will be built in Chile, would observe the universe from the southern hemisphere.

US astronomers included the recommendation in a once-a-decade analysis of their priorities and goals, called Pathways for Astronomy and Astrophysics Discovery in the 2020s.

The report said the success of at least one of the two projects, TMT or Magellan, was a key priority because of their “transformative scientific potential.” It concluded that having at least one is “absolutely necessary” for the United States to remain a leader in ground-based astronomy.

When the US government invests in a telescope, US astronomers get a share of the viewing time, regardless of where in the world it is built.

The European Southern Observatory, which is run by 16 European countries and partners with Chile and Australia, has already started building its super-large telescope in Chile. Observations are expected to begin in 2027.

Godfrey Kemp

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