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Decision on Giant Telescope Delayed by Hawaii Board

The decision regarding the giant telescope of Hawaii has been delayed again

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The giant telescope
FILE - This 2011 artist rendering shows the Thirty Meter Telescope. VOA
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A key decision on whether to place a $1.4 billion telescope in Hawaii to further astronomy research has been delayed, leaving open the possibility the project may be moved to Spain, a panel said Friday.

The board of governors for the project dubbed the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory still wants to build the telescope on its preferred site of Mauna Kea, a mountain in Hawaii.

But an alternative location in Spain’s Canary Islands remains under consideration, the board said in a statement after meeting this week to discuss legal and regulatory challenges to the Hawaii telescope plan that could last years.

The giant telescope at Hawaii
The Giant telescope.

“We continue to assess the ongoing situation as we work toward a decision,” said Ed Stone, the executive director of the observatory.

He said no decision could be made on where to put the telescope “until we have a place to go, and we don’t decide when we have a place to go — that’s decided by the courts and agencies.”

Also Read: Telescope Group chooses Canary Islands as an alternative to Hawaii

Dormant volcano

The 30-meter (98 feet) diameter telescope would be placed on one side of Mauna Kea and is far more advanced than the world’s largest current telescopes that measure 10 meters (32 feet) in diameter. The new telescope could potentially allow scientists to make groundbreaking discoveries about black holes, exoplanets, celestial bodies, and even detect indications of life on other planets.

Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano and Hawaii’s tallest mountain, was selected in July 2009 as the target location for the telescope after a five-year search.

Scientists called it the best site in the world for astronomy, given a stable, dry, and cold climate, which allows for sharp images. The atmosphere over the mountain also provides favorable conditions for astronomical measurements, according to the TMT website.

The island of La Palma in the Canary Islands, which already has an astronomical observatory, is considered a viable alternative. But scientists have said the telescope’s design would have to be altered for more adaptive optics given the mountain site’s lower altitude and different climate. That means it would take scientists more time to achieve the same discoveries they could make at Mauna Kea, Stone said.

Decision for location of the giant telescope delayed again.
Hawaii Board delays decision on location for the Giant telescope.

Years of debate

The Hawaii site has been subject to years of public debate and legal challenges. Researchers say it will help usher in scientific and economic developments, while opponents maintain it will hurt the environment and desecrate land considered sacred by some Native Hawaiians. Mauna Kea already houses a number of high-powered telescopes at its summit.

“Thirty years of astronomy development has resulted in adverse significant impact to the natural and cultural resources of Mauna Kea,” said Kealoha Pisciotta, president of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, an indigenous, Native Hawaiian group that works on environmental issues. “Trying to build more would have added to the cumulative impact.”

On Thursday, the Hawaii Senate approved a bill to ban new construction atop Mauna Kea, and included a series of audits and other requirements before the ban could be lifted. But House leaders said they don’t have plans to advance the bill. Democratic House Speaker Scott Saiki told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the “bill is dead on arrival in the House.”

Also Read: NASA delays launch of next-gen space telescope until 2020
There are also two appeals before the Hawaii Supreme Court. One challenges the sublease and land use permit issued by the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources. The other has been brought by a Native Hawaiian man who says use of the land interferes with his right to exercise cultural practices and is thus entitled to a case hearing.

The telescope project is a collaboration among universities in the U.S. and California, including the University of Hawaii and national science and research institutes of Japan, China, and India.

“It’s a privilege to practice astronomy on Mauna Kea and we’re not satisfied with where we’re at right now,” Dan Meisenzahl, a spokesperson for the University of Hawaii, said in a statement. “We will continue to push ourselves to improve our stewardship of the mountain.”  VOA

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Scientists Go Beyond The Laws Of Nature To Unlock Secrets Of Hawaii Volcano

Geologists have died studying active volcanoes

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Dr. Jessica Ball of USGS, a geologist and volcanologist who does research at the US Geological Survey, is updating Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists on the ground during a helicopter overflight of the ocean entry of the fissure 8 lava flow where a laze (lava haze) plume is visible over the active parts of the flow margin near Kapoho, Hawaii, June 8, 2018.
Dr. Jessica Ball of USGS, a geologist and volcanologist who does research at the US Geological Survey, is updating Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists on the ground during a helicopter overflight of the ocean entry of the fissure 8 lava flow where a laze (lava haze) plume is visible over the active parts of the flow margin near Kapoho, Hawaii, June 8, 2018. VOA

Dressed in heavy cotton, a helmet and respirator, Jessica Ball worked the night shift monitoring “fissure 8,” which has been spewing fountains of lava as high as a 15-story building from a slope on Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano.

The lava poured into a channel oozing toward the Pacific Ocean several miles away. In the eerie orange nightscape in the abandoned community of Leilani Estates, it looked like it was flowing toward the scientist, but that was an optical illusion, Ball said.

“The volcano is doing what it wants to. … We’re reminded what it’s like to deal with the force of nature,” said Ball, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Scientists have been in the field measuring the eruptions 24 hours a day, seven days a week since Kilauea first exploded more than two months ago.

They are a mix of USGS staff, University of Hawaii researchers and trained volunteers working six-to-eight-hour shifts in teams of two to five.

They avoid synthetics because they melt in the intense heat and wear gloves to protect their hands from sharp volcanic rock and glass. Helmets protect against falling lava stones, and respirators ward off sulfur gases.

This is not a job for the faint hearted. Geologists have died studying active volcanoes. David Alexander Johnston, a USGS volcanologist was killed by the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state. In 1991,

American volcanologist Harry Glicken and his French colleagues Katia and Maurice Krafft were killed while conducting avalanche research on Mount Unzen in Japan.

Ball, a graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo, located in upstate New York near the Canadian border, compared Kilauea’s eruptions to Niagara Falls.

“It gives you the same feeling of power and force,” she said.

Worth the risks

Kilauea, which has been erupting almost continuously since 1983, is one of the world’s most closely monitored volcanoes, largely from the now-abandoned Hawaiian Volcano Observatory at the summit. But the latest eruption is one of Kilauea’s biggest and could prove to be a bonanza for scientists.

Ball and the USGS teams are studying how the magma – molten rock from the earth’s crust – tracks through a network of tubes under the volcano in what is known as the “Lower East Rift Zone,” before ripping open ground fissures and spouting fountains of lava.

They are trying to discover what warning signs may exist for future eruptions to better protect the Big Island’s communities, she said.

Fissure 8 is one of 22 around Kilauea that have destroyed over 1,000 structures and forced 2,000 people to evacuate. They are what make this volcanic eruption a rare event, Ball said.

“They’re common for Kilauea on a geologic time scale, but in a human time scale it’s sort of a career event,” she said.

Meanwhile, the summit is erupting almost every day with steam or ash, said Janet Snyder, spokeswoman for the County of Hawaii, where Kilauea is located.

Scientists had thought the steam explosions resulted from lava at the summit dropping down the volcano’s throat into groundwater. This was based on Kilauea’s 1924 eruption, to which the current one is most often compared.

Scientists have been in the field measuring the eruptions 24 hours a day, seven days a week since Kilauea first exploded more than two months ago.
Scientists have been in the field measuring the eruptions 24 hours a day, seven days a week since Kilauea first exploded more than two months ago. Pixabay

But the explosions this time have released lots of sulfur dioxide gas, which means magma is involved, said Michael Poland, scientist-in-charge at Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, one of many volcanologists seconded to Kilauea.

“So we have already made a conceptual leap, leading us to believe it was different from what we had understood,” he said.

Poland and other scientists pulled equipment and archives out of the abandoned observatory at the volcano summit after hundreds of small eruption-induced quakes damaged the structure, and have decamped to the University of Hawaii in Hilo on the Big Island.

The archives included photos, seismic records and samples, some 100 or more years old, Poland said. “These materials are invaluable to someone who says, ‘I have this new idea, and I want to test it using past data.'”

Now the second longest Kilauea eruption on record, surpassed only by one in 1955, this eruption offers far better research opportunities than previous events, Ball said.

Also read: Earthquake Then Volcano, There is No Relief For the Hawaii Residents

“We’ve got much better instruments and we’ve got longer to collect the data,” she said, (VOA)