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Thirty Meter Telescope Approval Gains Tentative Ground

Jun 30, 2014 05:16 PM EDT

The sublease for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) has received approval by the Hawaiian state Board of Land and Natural resources, but still remains on hold until objections to its construction are heard in a separate hearing.

The sublease is the last major step involved in acquiring a site for the construction of the TMT - a $1.3 billion telescope that "eventually will become the most advanced and powerful optical telescope on Earth," according to the TMT Project site.

The TMT project has its sights set on the summit of the Mauna Kea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island, but reaching that goal is far more complicated than a simple acquisition of land in the name of science. As seen prior to the groundbreaking of Cerro Armazones - a Chilean mountain peak that will become the home of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) - there are a significant number of political and cultural hurdles that must be overcome when building upon such massive natural landmarks.

Mauna Kea  - a long-dormant volcano - was designated an official national landmark of the United States back in 1972, and has been called "the most majestic expression of shield volcanism in the Hawaiian Archipelago, if not the world," by the National Park Service.

It is also held sacred by many native Hawaiians, who claim that the construction of the TMT at Mauna Kea's peak would desecrate the ancient and respected site, according to the Associated Press.

Most worrying, representatives from the state's Office of Hawaiian Affairs are unsure if the TMT team will be paying enough "rent" for the land. As things stand, the sublease for the land would be about $1 million after the observatory is made fully operational in 2022, according to Big Island Now.

However, that value was extremely difficult to determine, according to Sterling Wong, public policy manager for the Office of Hawaiian Affair. Wong appraised the land's value based on pre-existing viewing rates and the knowledge that the TMT would be one of the largest telescopes in the world - dwarfed only by the E-ELT.

Once operational, the TMT will be used to observe forming galaxies at the very edge of the observable Universe in never-before-seen clarity.

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