It’s been over a week since the construction of a massive telescope atop Hawaii’s Mauna Kea was scheduled to begin.
The enormous telescope is being designed and developed by the TMT International Observatory LLC (TIO), a non-profit international partnership between the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, the National Institutes of Natural Sciences of Japan, the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Department of Science and Technology of India and the National Research Council of Canada.
Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano located on Hawaii’s Big Island and is already home to 13 other telescopes.
Mauna Kea has become the favourite spot because the clean air and tolerable light pollution at its summit, which is 4,205 metres above sea level, makes it one of the world’s best locations for studying the skies. The area was selected in July of 2009 by the board of the Thirty Meter Telescope after a five-year-long campaign.
Some Native Hawaiians view the summit of Mauna Kea as sacred and say the presence of yet another telescope will further damage it. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs also said that Mauna Kea is a “deeply sacred place” that is revered in Hawaiian traditions.
Mauna Kea is regarded as a shrine for worship, a home to the gods and as the “piko” of Hawai’i Island.
“Piko” is a Hawaiian word for the navel, considered symbolically and biologically to be where life begins. It also represents peace, tranquillity and spirituality along with new beginnings. The barren landscape is rich with their history, and is believed to be the site of the genesis of the Hawaiian people. Many of their revered ancestors are buried there.
All of this makes the summit one of the most, if not the most, sacred place in Hawai’i. Mauna Kea is also considered ceded land, which means it’s to be held in a trust to benefit future generations of native Hawaiians.
But the land protectors are calling this their last stand, as with the construction of several telescopes before, they were told that it would be the last telescope.
Of course, large news outlets have been quick to issue statements regarding the protectors using marijuana and alcohol, all of which has been proven incorrect by officials participating, including Honolulu City Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi.
But with the conduct of the some 1,000 protectors aside, the billion-dollar scope will use the same methods as many of the others.
Reflecting telescopes magnify some of the furthest objects using the same principle as a small telescope: more light is collected and focused to a point and this is magnified so that it fills the field of vision. With large telescopes however, instead of using a lens, a curved mirror collects the light and reflects it to a focus.
To achieve a viewing of a greater distance, larger mirrors need to be used, however large mirrors tend to collapse under their own weight so several of the largest telescopes in the world have been constructed with thin mirrors.
Thin mirrors, interferometry and active optics allow for some of the largest telescopes to function.
Over the years, engineers have made a series of improvements to minimize wear-and-tear errors caused by the mechanical movement of the telescope and heat damage. Mirror figuring and polishing have improved, along with the design of stiffer support structures and mirrors to reduce deformations. Low expansion glass has also reduced mirror distortions when temperatures vary. To reduce the small, but noticeable, turbulence inside the telescope dome, heat loss from motors and electronic equipment is curtailed during the night, and the dome that shields the telescope from the wind is cooled during the day.
It has been speculated that fresh water within the volcano is what will be used to cool the TMT telescope, contaminating said water and making it undrinkable. But that is only speculation.
It has also been speculated that in the case that the site does not in fact work out, TMT has a backup plan to build the telescope in La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain.
With everything else going on due to climate change and the destruction of the earth, the concept that astronomers absolutely need to see black holes clearly, is redundant. When it is put into perspective, if the educated put as much effort and money into creating giant telescopes as they did into saving the planet, we wouldn’t need to save the planet.
And nothing can really be done with information about other planets if they can’t be lived upon.
Let’s not forget that there are already 13 other telescopes on the summit — construction of the TMT is a very good example of a corporate peeing contest, at its finest.