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Blizzard on Hawaii summit delays telescope construction

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    This image from the Canada France Hawaii Telescope on Mauna Kea shows snow on the ground and ice on the webcamera Tuesday morning.

HILO >> Construction of one of the world’s largest telescopes is being delayed because of blizzard conditions on a Hawaii mountain summit.

The Thirty Meter Telescope will be built near the summit of Mauna Kea. If not for the winter storm, construction preparations would be getting underway at the site of the $1.4-billion project, Sandra Dawson, telescope spokeswoman, told Hilo newspaper Hawaii Tribune-Herald.

The Mauna Kea access road remained closed Tuesday because of snow and wind. Because of frozen weather gauges, it was difficult to estimate snowfall and wind speeds, said Ryan Lyman, meteorologist for the Mauna Kea Weather Center. He’s expecting up to 2 feet of snow and winds of 50 mph to 70 mph, with a break Tuesday and then snowing again Tuesday night. Conditions may improve to reopen the road by Friday or during the weekend, he said.

“The winds are pounding,” he said. “Snow is all over the place.”

When telescope construction can begin will depend on when the weather clears, Dawson said. “We have to do some re-planning based on the weather,” she said.

Even though access to the construction site will be restricted, there are plans to accommodate protesters, Dawson said.

Some oppose plans to build the telescope near the summit of a mountain held sacred by Native Hawaiians. Protests disrupted a groundbreaking and Hawaiian blessing ceremony last year.

The telescope should help scientists see some 13 billion light years away for a glimpse into the early years of the universe. Astronomers say Mauna Kea is the ideal location for observing the most distant and difficult to understand mysteries of the universe.

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