Mauna Kea, on Hawaii’s Big Island, remains the favored site for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), but in the face of multiple hurdles, the project’s leaders are making backup plans. The TMT partners hope the legal difficulties ensuing from the opposition to the telescope by some native Hawaiians will be resolved by early next year. If not, though, the partners intend to start construction somewhere else in April 2018.

In preparing a plan B, the TMT partners are evaluating sites in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. A change in site for the $1.4 billion next-generation telescope would have ripple effects for the global astronomy community. For Hawaii, in particular, “it will make it hard to convince future investors to put money into astronomy instruments and telescopes,” says Doug Simons, executive director of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, one of 13 telescopes already on Mauna Kea.

When the TMT team selected Mauna...

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