Hawaii Approves Project to Build World’s Largest Optical Telescope

First Posted: Apr 13, 2013 11:20 PM EDT

Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources has given green light to one of the most daring scientific projects the paradise archipelago has undertaken.

The Mauna Kea volcano, authorities of the 50th state said Friday, welcomes the project to build the world's largest optical telescope.

The approval means that the group responsible for the telescope project can now negotiate a sublease for land with the University of Hawaii.

The star-gazing device, which at completion will boast a breathtaking 30 meter long, will observe planets that orbit stars other than the Sun and would enable astronomers to watch new planets and stars being formed. It's expected that it also help astronomers see about 13 billion light-years away for a glimpse of the early years of the universe.

Of course, a machine like this doesn't come cheap. It is estimated that the project will swallow up a good $1 billion. Leading the projects are two Californian major research institution: University of California system, the California Institute of Technology, and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy. The joint-venture also has China, India and Japan as partners.

The telescope is expected to produce images up to three times sharper than the ones produced by the best telescopes today. A feat to be achieved that thanks to its close to 100 feet long segmented primary mirror - which will also give nine times the collecting area of the largest optical telescopes in use today.

While scientists look at this project as a great step in the advancement of our understanding of the Universe, some native Hawaiian groups have petitioned against the project. They argue that the enterprise would, in some way,  compromise the sacred summit of the mountain.

Mauna Kea volcano is Hawaii highest point and tradition holds that high altitudes are sacred - a gateway to heaven. There were times when only high chiefs and priests were allowed at Mauna Kea's summit.

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