The volcano Mauna Kea is the most sacred of all the Hawaiian peaks in Hawaiian mythology and is already home to several telescopes as part of the Mauna Kea Observatories.
But the latest plan by the University of California to install a “super telescope”: the Thirty Metre Telescope (TMT) has come up against stiff opposition on the islands, so much so that Hawaii could be abandoned altogether as researchers look for an alternative location.
The TMT – which has cost an estimated €1.2 billion – should have been completed in 2014 but protests halted the work and all construction equipment was ordered off the sacred volcano.
In December 2015 the State Supreme Court of Hawaii invalidated the TMT's building permits, ruling that due process was not followed when the permits were issued.
On hearing the news, Rafael Rebolo, director of the Canaries Astrophysics Institute (IAC) in the Canary Islands, wrote to the TMT scientific council and proposed the Spanish islands as a perfect alternative to Hawaii.
“From what we understand, we are among the alternatives, together with two locations in Chile and one in Mexico,” Rafael Rebolo, director of Canaries Astrophysics Institute (IAC) told Spanish daily El País.
Four members of the scientific council, including the head of the project Gary Sanders, visited the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the island of La Palma in March, and in April five more technicians will visit to assess the islands’ suitability.
But while the team behind the TMT admit a list of plan B options are being considered, Mauna Kea remains their plan A.
“Mauna Kea remains our first option but we are studying a list of sites, some of them new, which will serve as a plan B if the TMT cannot be built in Hawaii,” explained spokesman, Scott Ishikawa.
The Roque de los Muchachos Observatory is the second best location for optical and infrared astronomy in the northern hemisphere after Mauna Kea and boasts the world’s largest single-aperture optical telescope, the Gran Telescopio Canarias.