A plan by California and Canadian universities to build the world’s largest telescope at the summit of Mauna Kea received approval Friday from the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.
The decision clears the way for the group managing the Thirty Meter Telescope project to negotiate a sublease for land with the University of Hawaii.
The telescope would be able to observe planets that orbit stars other than the sun and enable astronomers to watch new planets and stars being formed. It should also help scientists see some 13 billion light-years away for a glimpse into the early years of the universe.
The telescope’s segmented primary mirror, which is nearly 100 feet long, will give it nine times the collecting area of the largest optical telescopes in use today. Its images will also be three times sharper.
Some Native Hawaiian groups had petitioned against the project, arguing it would defile the mountain’s sacred summit.
Native Hawaiian tradition holds that high altitudes are sacred and a gateway to heaven. In the past, only high chiefs and priests were allowed at Mauna Kea’s summit. The mountain is home to one confirmed burial site and perhaps four more.
Environmentalists also petitioned to stop the telescope on the grounds it would harm habitat for the rare wekiu bug.
The board approved the project anyway but imposed two dozen conditions, including a requirement that employees be trained in culture and natural resources.
The University of California system, the California Institute of Technology and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy are spearheading the telescope. China, India and Japan have signed on to be partners.
UH is involved because it leases the summit land from the state.