La Palma, the island that cultivates telescopes, is about to run out of what would be the jewel in the crown, the giant Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) that drives an international consortium of scientific institutions. The Supreme Court of the State of Hawaii has decided that the permit for the construction of the TMT is valid, so it can be built on the Hawaiian sacred mountain of Mauna Kea, something that had been opposed by native collectives. This ruling paves the way for this monumental scientific installation to be installed in the location that had originally been thought of.
Thanks to the efforts of the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands (IAC), La Palma had managed to earn many points as an alternative plan if it continued to slow construction in the US, with the consequent loss of resources and time in the race against other telescopes of last generation. But the plan of the promoters of the TMT (universities of Hawaii, California, Caltech, Canada, Japan, India and China) was always to place it in the Hawaiian summits.
They ask me to continue the process to obtain the construction permit in La Palma, "explains Rafael Rebolo
Therefore, the judicial decision is a slammer for the options of the Canary Islands, but since the TMT and the IAC assure that all is not lost and that the possibility of the plan is still alive b. "I have spoken with the TMT board and they tell me that they are happy with the decision, obviously, but they ask me to continue the process to obtain the building permit in La Palma," explains a busy Rafael Rebolo, director of the IAC, who has dedicated important efforts to get the Canary Observatory erected as a real alternative to Hawaii.
"What they transmit to me is that the situation there is complex," explains Rebolo, "and they do not know if there will be more resources that will happen when they begin to build." The Spanish astronomer remembers that when the telescope began to be built in 2014, the protests of native groups made the work unviable, forcing the construction to be halted and beginning the legal process that could end today, with more than four years of delay according to plan. original. "There are still opportunities while it is not being built there," says Rebolo.
Christophe Dumas, TMT's operations manager recalled on a note He thanked the Canary institutions for their efforts and added: "However, in the current situation, there are still some steps to be taken in order to build the TMT in Mauna Kea, so we will continue advancing with the process in Spain to allow the TMT to install in La Palma in case it is not possible to do it in Hawaii ". Next week, Dumas himself will go to the Canary Islands to explain the situation to the IAC team first-hand.
Throughout these years, the Observatory of Roque de los Muchachos in La Palma has been claimed as one of the best places in the world for astronomy, receiving numerous visits from TMT technicians and scientists, which meant that by the end of 2016 La Palma was chosen as an alternative, being imposed on other top-level observatories in Chile, Mexico or China. Although El Roque is only 2,300 meters above sea level, the observation conditions are almost as good as at Mauna Kea, at 4,200 meters. In addition, operating costs in the Canary Islands were half of the planned 40 million, an important saving for an appliance with more than 50 years of useful life.
This monumental $ 1.4 billion investment project in cutting-edge science will be one of the most advanced and powerful terrestrial telescopes in history, three times as large and nine times as large as today's largest visible light telescope. . And thanks to a sensitivity ten times higher than that of existing observatories, the TMT will be able to provide images twelve times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope, bringing us closer to the origin of the universe and habitable planets.