back to article Thirty Meter Telescope needs to revisit earthly fine print

Hawaii's planned Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project has been formally sent back to square one in its construction approval process. The US$ 1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope has been slated for a site in Hawaii for some time, and its consortium had already spent $170 million on construction before court cases stalled it. …

  1. John Geek

    time to give up on hawaii and move it to Chile

    1. Grikath

      No doubt there'll be a polite missive stating "cut your losses and have a look here, it's purdy.." soon enough.

      I wonder.. would the Hawaiians still practice Sacrifice to Volcanoes as a way to appease the Gods? There's no doubt going to be a number of other locals looking for involuntary sacrifices if the project does turn its back and end up going somewhere else. That's a fair amount of employment, economic value and scientific bragging rights threatening to go up in a smoke plume..

      1. DropBear

        "That's a fair amount of employment"

        Is there though...? Not that I have any actual clue, but in the long term, somehow I don't imagine a finished, functioning telescope site crawling with contractors or hot-dog stands or whatever. I mean, they probably don't even need a night guard... maybe a "day guard"...?

        1. LDS Silver badge

          Those telescopes buildings are at an altitude which makes them not the proper place for a picnic or souvenir stand - unless you are used to live at 4000m or so. But there is still all the support and maintenance personnel needed at the control site, also for the instruments without which a telescope today is pretty useless (you don't look into it with your naked eye...)

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Time to move to La Palma

      The are 20 odd telescopes there now, including two brand new 15m segmented mirror ones. The locals are supportive to the point where the island has some of the most merciless light pollution planning regs in the world. It also gives more or less the same viewpoint as Hawaii covering the northern hemisphere - something the Chile site does not.

      1. cd / && rm -rf *

        Re: Time to move to La Palma

        Indeed. A beautiful place, I worked at the observatory sited at the highest point of the island (2500m) for many years. There is a Sky Law in effect, enacted in 1988, which ensures light pollution from streetlights, etc. is minimal. Think there is also a Lights Out event once a year where the local people switch off unnecessary lights, close curtains, etc. to make the sky that bit darker for the astronomers.

        The night sky viewed from the observatory is stunning - you can see billions and billions of stars and the Milky Way, all with the naked eye.

        Icon chosen for all the good science that goes on up there.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Time to move to La Palma

          But what if the goal was to get BOTH high altitude AND a near-equatorial location? La Palma is too far north (28 degrees) while Mauna Kea at only 19 degrees is in the torrid zone. Is a tropical location a requirement for the TMT?

        2. Jonathan Richards 1 Silver badge

          Re: Time to move to La Palma

          OK, pedantic wet blanket moment: the Milky Way is composed of billions of stars, but you can't resolve them with the naked eye. Despite the apparently overwhelming number of points of starlight in a dark sky, there's probably no more than 5,000 that one can see.


          1. cd / && rm -rf *

            Re: Time to move to La Palma

            Huh. Trust a pedantic scientist to wander along :)

            I was trying to convey how, from the mountain top on La Palma, just how many stars one can see with the naked eye. Alright, "billions and billions" may have been a slight exaggeration. This YewTewb vid conveys some of the flavour. I don't think i've made enough posts to hyperlink, but hopefully the link will appear and can be cut'n'pasted.


            That's typical of what the naked eye can see on a good night. I rather think you can see more than 5k stars there...

            Icon added because it's beer o'clock.

            1. Queasy Rider

              Re: Time to move to La Palma

              I may not be a scientist, but I can be pedantic, and posts like yours really frost my ass. Why, because you insist on claiming there MUST be at least 5,000 visible stars because you THINK so. When I originally got interested in astronomy over thirty years ago, the first factoid of many to astound me was the number of stars visible to the naked eye. 6,000 was the number given for the whole globe, of which only half, that's 3,000, can be seen by any individual (unless they can see over the horizon, or through the earth with neutron ray glasses.) So give it up and let science do the talking.

              1. Queasy Rider

                Re: Time to move to La Palma

                I was just going to let this go, but because somebody thumbed me down (I hope for my tone, not the verifiable facts), I feel obliged to point out that billions and billions of stars is not a slight exaggeration but a thousand thousand times exaggeration.

              2. cd / && rm -rf *

                Re: Time to move to La Palma

                I've actually been to La Palma and worked there for a number of years. I know what the sky there looks like at night, thank you.

                $DEITY save us from pedants (see icon).

                1. Queasy Rider

                  Re: Time to move to La Palma

                  "I've actually been to La Palma and worked there for a number of years. I know what the sky there looks like at night, thank you."

                  Ah yes, the classic 'I know what I know cuz I know what I know' conjecture.

                  Backed up by...

                  "$DEITY save us from pedants (see icon)."

                  ...the sly sideways ad hominem attack. Well done, I'm convinced now.

              3. Fungus Bob

                Re: Time to move to La Palma

                "posts like yours really frost my ass. Why, because you insist on claiming there MUST be at least 5,000 visible stars because you THINK so."

                Looks like someone's having a case of the Mondays...

                1. Queasy Rider

                  Re: Time to move to La Palma

                  From Sky and Telescope," Astronomer Dorrit Hoffleit of Yale University, well known for her work with variable stars, compiled the Yale Bright Star Catalog decades ago. It tabulates every star visible from Earth to magnitude 6.5, the naked eye limit for most of humanity.

                  You might be in for a surprise when you read it, though. The total comes to 9,096 stars visible across the entire sky. Both hemispheres. Since we can only see half the celestial sphere at any moment, we necessarily divide that number by two to arrive at 4,548 stars (give or take depending on the season). And that's from the darkest sky you can imagine."

                  So I'll eat a smidgen of crow, but I'm not eating the whole bird. And by the way, my previous numbers came from a university text published in the 1980s, so I make no apology for those numbers (6,000/3,000) because I didn't guess or even estimate them. And thank you, but, being mostly retired, every day is Saturday to me.

                  And yes, I've seen claims that some people can see down to magnitude 8. and therefore 45,000 stars are visible to them in the two hemispheres. I would like to meet those people, both of them. I assume they are both contributing to this thread.

        3. SteveastroUk

          Re: Time to move to La Palma

          Well, no, with the naked eye, even in the darkest sky conditions, you can only see 100,000 stars IIRC

      2. Zolko Bronze badge

        Re: Time to move to La Palma

        I used to work there also (on the WHT), it's a great place with sometimes superb conditions, but usable only 1/2 of the year. The other half (winter) the weather conditions are too bad to observe, and that would be unacceptable for a new BBT (Bloody Big Telescope).

        The two 15 meter telescopes (the MAGICs) are Cherenkov-types, not for astronomy. But it still hosts the largest telescope on Earth: the GranTeCan, a copy of the Kecks, but 10cm larger (with the Gemini's dome)

        1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

          Re: Time to move to La Palma

          The other half (winter) the weather conditions are too bad to observe

          Hmm... I was there for Xmas this year. 11 days - 10 clear sky ones at night. Only low clouds way lower than the summit of Roque of Los Muchachos where the telescopes are.

          The weather there is cyclic subject to the usual North Atlantic Oscillation effects. There are a 2-3 years every decade when you get whacked by a rainstorm every week in winter. The rest is fairly clear. I have been in the area a couple of times a year (usually in winter) since 1999 and you get the occasional nasty 2-3 wet winters. The rest is OK.

          Hawaii, while generally better off than La Palma gets its fair share of storms too. Just not in winter - late summer and autumn. Realistically, Hawaii, La Palma and other civilized, but not light polluted places with good infra in the northern hemisphere all suffer from this. If you really want "no weather issues" you need to look at some of the mountain deserts in China and Mongolia - similar conditions to Atacama, just much, much, much colder in winter. When you consider the logistics of putting a telescope there you realize that you might as well contend with a wet winter like 2002-2003 on La Palma now and then.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      There are or will soon be equally big 'scopes in Chile. You need a a site which can cover the Northern Hemisphere as well.

  2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Won't be a "sacred site" in 2 million years or so anymore

    a sacred site in Hawaii

    Code for "time to switch off our brains and pretend we care because of the loud people who pretend to be able to detect sacredness".

    Well, ok then.

    Does sacredness of a site diminish if you plant a telescope there after construction has finished? It seems that a long discussion evening for the Society of Jesus is required to answer that question.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Won't be a "sacred site" in 2 million years or so anymore

      Especially ironic in that astronomical observatories are centuries older than the settlement of the Hawaiian islands - so it is the astronomers traditional activities that are being banned.

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: astronomy as a traditional activity

        Technically, by that logic you could raze the Stonhenge site and put something like the Jodrell Bank dish there.

        (Just my 0,01794€, at current exchange rate.)

        1. LDS Silver badge

          Re: astronomy as a traditional activity

          Just, there are no archaeological sites up there (AFAIK) - it is sacred just because it is high and you can't easily live there - just like most mountain tops, especially the most inaccessible ones. If it is inaccessible it must be the house of some gods, right? (Also, is someone challenges me to go there I can say I can't because of the gods, and don't look a coward...)

          Ironically, some astronomers at La Silla (IIRC), also spent part of their time there in documenting the rock inscriptions found in the neighborhood (La Silla is only 2400m high, albeit in a desert) - probably, without the observatory, those inscriptions would have been mostly forgotten, and the people who made them.

          1. Kumar2012

            Re: astronomy as a traditional activity

            @LDS " it is sacred just because..." -- more likely its 'sacred' because someone didn't get their cut of the $1.4 billion being spent on construction, I'm sure once you throw enough money at whatever group is agitating there everything will be just fine. I bet none of these protesters have ever bothered about this inaccessible piece of land until someone decided it was useful to them and they saw some easy money.

        2. markowen58

          Re: astronomy as a traditional activity

          no, by that logic you would run say, the A303 right by it.

        3. 96percentchimp

          Re: astronomy as a traditional activity

          Although Stonehenge is arguably already an astronomical observatory of some kind. It's just that no-one remembers what it's for.

      2. LDS Silver badge

        Re: Won't be a "sacred site" in 2 million years or so anymore

        And I wonder if those settlers did use stars and some astronomical knowledge derived from observations to navigate...

      3. Joe Gurman

        Re: Won't be a "sacred site" in 2 million years or so anymore

        What is sacred to whom is always a matter of conjecture as to sincerity, depth of feeling, and authenticity, but Polynesian peoples had similar beliefs going back well before any astronomical observatories, and native people in the Hawai'ian islands have been dumped on for a couple centuries by haoles, so ill feeling at getting dumped on once again is a given.

        That said, there are also opportunists out for a payoff, and the odds are about fifty-fifty whether the TMT will simply be canceled or there will be a holy person there for the dedication.

        One thing I can tell you: if the telescope does get built, this kind of delay means the police tag will go well beyond $1.4B. Ask the folks who are building the DKIST (a solar telescope) on the Haleakala on Maui.

    2. Red Bren

      Re: Won't be a "sacred site" in 2 million years or so anymore

      "Does sacredness of a site diminish if you plant a telescope there"

      I'll bet it diminishes if you bung a few dollars around because there's nothing more sacred than The Almighty $

      Pirate icon because this is a shake down in mid ocean.

  3. Oengus

    Define the sacred site

    Get a number of people (the so called "experts") to define the boundary of the "sacred" site without knowing what anyone else defined. Only accept it as a sacred site if all experts agree exactly on the boundaries.

    In Hawaii a site where lava splits and flows around is classed as a sacred site. The question is "when the next eruption covers it is it/was it really a sacred site?".

    Why is it that so many sites that no one ever used suddenly become "sacred sites" when someone wants to use it. I think that vested interests sense a dollar can be made and the feeding frenzy starts. I am sure that the people planning the telescope didn't choose land that was used regularly for religious purposes when selecting the location.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: Define the sacred site

      Such cynicism, in one so young.

      Have an upvote, and a beer, for rationality.

  4. Bloodbeastterror

    As I commented the last time this story was in The Reg, once again The Man In The Sky, a prehistoric way of explaining things that we now understand (microbes, for example), gets in the way of our continuing to expand our knowledge.

    When are we going to grow up? I stopped believing in the stories my parents told me a very long time ago - the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Father Christmas. And God. All the same, apart from the fact that the first three actually have tangible benefits, and bring happiness rather than the oppressive guilt and fear that religion bestows.

    Stupid, stupid, stupid...

    1. Adair Silver badge

      Bloodbeastterror, your prejudice is showing.

      1. Bloodbeastterror

        @Adair: "your prejudice is showing"

        Certainly is, and I'm not at all ashamed of being prejudiced against superstition and stupidity. If we all were then the world would be a better place.

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          You get a beer, too.

    2. MT Field

      Agree with the whole casting out of superstition thing, BUT the world is a big place and its peoples are diverse. We have room for everything that is rational plus lots of stuff that isn't, and that makes the world a richer and more entertaining place to live.

      1. Bloodbeastterror

        @MT Field: "a richer and more entertaining place"

        Yes, it does, up to a point. But from where I sit the only value of superstition and stupidity is that it allows me to point and laugh and feel smugly superior, which isn't good - I totally recognise that and I regard it as one of my many character flaws. But that's just yet another reason to ditch long-irrelevant nonsense, no...?

        1. Fungus Bob

          "I totally recognise that and I regard it as one of my many character flaws. But that's just yet another reason to ditch long-irrelevant nonsense"

          Others should change just so your acknowledged character flaws are less obvious? Nope. They're your flaws and nobody else's. Nobody owes you (or me or anybody) anything. You don't have to like somebody else's superstitions, you don't have to respect them. But demanding that others change for you is just childish.

    3. Robert Helpmann??

      No tangible benefits?

      All the same, apart from the fact that the first three actually have tangible benefits, and bring happiness rather than the oppressive guilt and fear that religion bestows.

      Bloodbeastterror, you make that the statement as if guilt and fear were not beneficial when in fact they are a pair of extremely useful tools for keeping the hoi polloi in line. I expect the next things you will be on about are the dole, threats of violence and control of the media.

      1. Bloodbeastterror

        Re: No tangible benefits?

        Robert, I hear you, and I agree (see, I'm actually pretty good at getting the subtext...)

        This is the obvious original reason for organised religion. If you can wave a big metaphorical stick at people and threaten them with things that they can't possibly check until they're dead (like burning in a pit for all eternity) then you're off to a flying start in getting yourself set up for life. No need to work if you have gullible morons who will do the work for you. There are obvious examples, particularly in America where evangelical preachers rake in shedloads of cash even though it's clear that they don't believe a word of the nonsense they're spouting. And I believe there's a guy somewhere in Italy...?

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: No tangible benefits?

          I have wondered if the religion scam is just a superior variant of the royalty scam - the only difference I can see is that one says 'do it because I say so' and the other says 'do it because the invisible sky fairies told me so'.

          Perhaps believing in both/either is down to a gene I don't express.

          1. Bloodbeastterror

            Re: No tangible benefits?

            @Neil Barnes

            Yes, agreed, but the major difference is that if royalty ceases to exist we lose nothing except tourist revenue. If we lose religion we gain dignity and lose nothing whatsoever.

  5. Comedy of Errors

    CAVE people

    A decade ago I remember my guide referring to those against the telescopes as "CAVE people" - Citizens Against Virtually Everything.

    The sites are scared only under the old religion which so few people now follow it doesn't even figure in the stats:

    I suspect most of the protesters do not follow it either but retain some ill defined and illogical feeling of sacredness over the sites.

    There are better things to protest about, such as land rights.

    1. JayB

      Re: CAVE people

      Ordinarily I'd be onside with your CAVE argument, but I've been fortunate to enough have visited Hawaii and find the whole place fascinating.

      Part of the reason the native religion has died out is because there are so few properly native Hawaiians left. Their recent history, from the time America stole the country, has been one of their culture systematically being erased or overridden. I agree that the whole thing stinks of $$$$ but I can't help feeling for the Hawaiians.

      As for jobs, I doubt many would be created for the Islands, most of the crew are likely to be brought in from outside I suspect.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There are already a dozen telescopes on the 'sacred site'

    So I would think an agreement could be reached where they remove the oldest telescope and replace it with the newer one - or if not maybe removing the two oldest telescopes and replacing with one will do the trick.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: There are already a dozen telescopes on the 'sacred site'

      They already did - there is a limit on the total number of telescopes.

      The Keck interferometer mode was shut down because the small outrigger telescopes counted toward the limit as much as the two main domes.

      The telescope should have been built in Chile, it was built in Hawaii to get pork barrel funding and this is the result.

  7. Holleritho

    The telescope madness must stop

    Scientific American had a good article recently on the absurd doubling-p of telescopes, built by rival universities in the USA with a consortium of me-toos for each side. The projects would benefit from being rolled into one, where the money could build something great. The observatories in Hawaii and Chile seem remote and minimal, but in fact they have a hell of a footprint, and the tops of mountains (former) and the fragile ecosystem (latter) are brutalised by a petrochem attitude: bulldoze and to hell with anything else.

    'Sacred' is often invoked to say 'quite wrecking our beautiful areas and reserving these special places for your private purposes'. The sacred might be attended to, as 'quite riding roughshod over us and thinking that your scientific purposes trump everything else'. I love astronomy, but it's not the only thing of value in the world.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: The telescope madness must stop

      Several issues here.

      1. Instrument resolution and capabilities are _NOT_ a _LINEAR_ return on investment function. Adding 2M from one university to 2M from another does not get you a 2x better instrument. More like 1.3 - 1.4.

      2. One instrument can cover one area of the night sky at any given time. The bigger the telescope, the smaller the area it can survey at any given time. If you want your object surveyed on one of the larger instruments you need to:

      2.1. Have a look at it using a smaller instrument first

      2.2. Queue for up to half a year to get your turn. That is if you can "prove it is interesting"

      3. Realistically, there is demand for (at least) 10-20 of the new segmented mirror + adaptive optics instruments (like the Eu Magic 1 and Magic 2). Replacing them with 2-3 bigger ones is not the answer, it is the question and the answer is no.

  8. W Donelson

    Lawyers and Money.


  9. MT Field

    Wan't this the one the US congress tried to stop funding because they considered it potentially blasphemous?

  10. Tikimon

    Religion: Stifling Learning for Thousands of Years!

    Gosh, I hope those Hawai'ians are proud! They've joined the Catholic Church and American Evangelists in the Big Boy's Club for stonewalling scientific learning and keeping the whole bloody species mired in superstitious ignorance. Surely history will thank them for their selfless actions this day and their wonderful contribution to the future of all humanity!

    The shades of Galileo and Darwin are sharing an epic facepalm with me now...

    1. Stratman

      Re: Religion: Stifling Learning for Thousands of Years!

      Guy Consolmagno, Director of the Vatican Observatory, and a Jesuit for good measure

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Religion: Stifling Learning for Thousands of Years!

        I met him at a talk he gave; interesting bloke, friendly but a bit, err, jesuitical.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021