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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Super scope may go to Mauna Kea

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

A Canadian engineering firm is helping design a $750 million telescope that could end up on Mauna Kea, although a decision about where to put it is at least two years away.

The Thirty-Meter Telescope three times bigger than the world's largest optical and infrared telescopes, the twin Keck telescopes on Mauna Kea won't be operational for another decade, but fundraising and lobbying efforts by those who want to be picked as its ultimate home are under way. Hawai'i's tallest mountain is a contender, but so are sites in Mexico and Chile.

The international engineering firm Amec Dynamic Structures, which had roles in the construction of the Keck, Gemini and Canada-France-Hawai'i telescopes on Mauna Kea, said it is involved in the design of the Thirty-Meter Telescope, which will have 700 to 800 carefully fitted mirror segments rather than one large mirror or lens.

The scope would have vastly more light-gathering power than any telescope in the world today. One of its goals will be to photograph planets circling the stars other than our own sun, said Rolf-Peter Kudritzki, director of the University of Hawai'i's Institute for Astronomy, which manages observatory sites atop Mauna Kea and Haleakala.

The telescope is a joint project of an international consortium of universities. Construction is expected to start in 2008 in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. Kudritzki said it probably won't be processing starlight until 2015 or later.

He said the proposed Mauna Kea site is on a plateau well below the summit. The summit area is considered sacred by many Native Hawaiians. The lower location and a long-term plan to reduce the number of observatories on the summit are among Kudritzki's arguments to persuade residents to welcome the telescope.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.