English version by Susana Urra.
There is no scientific work that can be done in Hawaii that cannot be done in La Palma. (RAFAEL REBOLO, IAC DIRECTOR)
But the gods appear to have won a battle that could ultimately benefit an observatory in the Canary Islands, which already hosts the world’s biggest telescope.
Mauna Kea is already home to 13 world-class astronomical observatories, including several giant telescopes such as the Keck twins, with their 10-meter primary mirrors.
The University of California and Caltech were now planning to build the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT) on this most sacred of the Hawaiian mountains, one which still contains burial sites. According to the project, the exact site where TMT is to be built on Mauna Kea has no known archaeological shrines or burial sites.
But management of the TMT project, which had a budget of more than €1.2 billion, can be described as disastrous. Construction began in 2014, but was halted due to serious protests. All construction material had to be brought back down from the 4,200-meter altitude it had been taken to. And in December, a court ruled that due process was not followed when the building permits were issued.
All of which brings the project back to square one, legally speaking.
At that point, one individual in Spain showed quick wits: Rafael Rebolo, director of the Astrophysics Institute of the Canary Islands (IAC), wrote to the scientific board of TMT with a proposal.
In March, four members of the board, including project chief Gary Sanders, visited the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the island of La Palma. And this month, says Rebolo, a five-member task force will return to the facilities to gather more detailed information.
“As far as I know, we are one of the alternatives together with two other places in Chile and Mexico,” says the head of IAC, which oversees all astronomical observatories in the Canary Islands. (RAFAEL REBOLO, IAC DIRECTOR)
The Indian press adds another candidate, the Hanle observatory, given that India is one of the countries financing the TMT project together with Canada, China and Japan.
Rebolo said that by May two sites could be shortlisted to replace the failed Hawaiian location.
But sources at TMT said there are still no set deadlines or firm alternatives.
“Mauna Kea is still the first option,” said project spokesman Scott Ishikawa. “The board of directors gave the green light early this year to study a list of sites, some of them new, that could work as a Plan B in case the TMT does not get built in Hawaii.”
All construction material had to be brought down from the 4,200-meter altitude where it had been taken up