A good beginning is halfway to success, the saying goes—but groundbreaking for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), a strong competitor-to-be in the new astronomical landscape, has run into a roadblock. Dozens of native Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians gathered at the entrance to Mauna Kea summit on Tuesday to protest further development on their “sacred mountain,” blocking the way for the planned ceremony. Some officials and scientists did manage to reach the construction site at the summit, but the ceremony’s organizers had to cancel planned speeches and locally flavored ceremonies intended to officially begin the project, including the untying of the maile lei and turning of dirt with an O’o stick.
Tuesday’s protests came on top of years of coordination difficulties and delay as a result of concern from native Hawaiians and environmentalists alike over construction of the $1.4 billion telescope on the volcano, which is already home to more than a dozen telescopes. (Protesters have come to coin their own definition for the acronym TMT: Too Many Telescopes.)
Despite the interruption, the construction of the telescope will go on as planned, Sandra Dawson, a spokeswoman for TMT, told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald. Onsite work will begin next year. Protesters also appeared at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in Palo Alto, California, which is a major sponsor of the TMT project.
Upon its completion around 2021, TMT will be one of the most powerful telescopes in the world, allowing scientists to see deep into the universe, address questions about star and planet formation, and unravel the history of galaxies and the development of large-scale structures in the universe.