A plan to build the world's largest telescope in Hawaii won approval from the state's Board of Land and Natural Resources on Friday April 12.
The plan proposed by Californian and Canadian universities allows for a sublease of land with the University of Hawaii. Capable of seeing 13 billion light years away, the telescope will observe orbiting planets outside of our solar system as well as planets being formed. It will be built on top of the Big Island's Mauna Kea, a summit popular with astronomers due to its high altitude. The location is also popular due to the fact that it is relatively free of air and light pollution.
The board commented that the telescope would be highly beneficial to the state and provide about 140 full-time jobs.
"It's for the entire state," the university's director of relations and former state representative Jerry Chang said. "It's a billion-dollar project. It's going to affect businesses, bring in a lot of grant money, researchers and astronomers."
The project, which is expected to cost over $1 billion, is being led by the California Institute of Technology, the University of California system and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy.
The telescope uses a segmented primary mirror that is almost 100 feet long and has a collecting area nine times as large as the current largest optical telescopes. Images from the telescope will be three times sharper.
Some native Hawaiians have expressed opposition to the telescope, claiming it will ruin the summit. In Hawaiian tradition, high altitudes are considered a sacred gateway to heaven. Mauna Kea was previously exclusive to priests and high chiefs and the site is known to have at least one burial site. Environmentalists also protested the telescope, arguing that it would harm the local wekiu bug's habitat.
Despite the objections, the board approved the telescope project, albeit with conditions including a requirement that employees have training in natural resources and culture.