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It is high noon, again, for astronomers who want to erect a gigantic telescope on Mauna Kea, the grand volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii.

On June 21, the Supreme Court of Hawaii will hear oral arguments in Honolulu on whether to approve a building permit for the telescope, which would be the biggest and most expensive in the Northern Hemisphere.

This same court rescinded the telescope’s permit two-and-a-half-years ago on procedural grounds, after protests had prevented construction on the mountaintop.

The Thirty Meter Telescope (named for the diameter of its main light-collecting mirror) has been 15 years in the planning. It would be one of three gargantuan telescopes now in the works that could transform astronomy in the 21st century.

If they don’t get clearance to start building on Mauna Kea soon, the Thirty Meter astronomers say they will build it on La Palma in the Canary Islands, off Africa, where the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory is home to several telescopes, including the 10-meter Gran Telescopio Canarias.

The Thirty Meter Telescope would be completed in 2029, if construction can start — somewhere — next year. But that’s still a big “if,” and would leave the telescope far behind its rivals in the race to enlarge the scrutiny of the heavens.

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Category: Science