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A place for the giant

Mount Mauna Kea: three or four telescopes will be deactivated

RICHARD WAINSCOAT / NOAO / AURA / NSFMount Mauna Kea: three or four telescopes will be deactivatedRICHARD WAINSCOAT / NOAO / AURA / NSF

The government of the U.S. state of Hawaii has announced that three or four of the existing telescopes on Mauna Kea, a 4,000-meter mountain in that state, will need to be deactivated to make way for construction of the giant Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), a $1.2 billion initiative financed by a consortium of research institutions of the United States, Canada, Japan, China and India. The mountain is home to 13 powerful telescopes, including the 10-meter-diameter Keck and the Subaru and Gemini telescopes, both in the 8-meter class. The TMT, which is expected to begin operations in 2023, will have a mirror measuring 30 meters in diameter. The news has created speculation about which of the telescopes on Mauna Kea could be dismantled, and when. “We have always made the point that space on the top of the mountain should only be populated by the absolutely best telescopes,” said Günter Hasinger, director of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii. Observatories like the Gemini and the Keck, which were expected to operate until 2033, involve international agreements that cannot be canceled. Raymond Blundell, a professor of astronomy at Harvard University, told the journal Nature, “We intend to continue operating until we come to a point where the science return isn’t worth it.”