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Canadian universities to aid in construction of world's largest telescope


Mauna Kea's peak currently has close to a dozen telescopes
Mauna Kea's peak currently has close to a dozen telescopes

Kevan Karanjia, Staff Writer

April 13, 2013 — The world's largest telescope will soon be coming to Hawaii with the help of Canadian universities after receiving approval from the state Board of Land and Natural Resources on Friday.

View of the night sky from the summit of Mauna Kea
View of the night sky from the summit of Mauna Kea

Hawaii's Mauna Kea volcano is known as a cultural hot spot that's home to endangered species and is considered one of the best locations for astronomical observation, but soon you'll be able to add the title of host of the world's largest telescope. 

A plan by California and Canadian universities to construct the 30 metre telescope on the summit of the volcano was approved Friday by Hawaii's state Board of Land and Natural Resources. 

The decision allows the group behind the project to begin negotiations over a sublease of land with the University of Hawaii, who is involved because they lease the summit land from the state.

The Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy is leading the telescope project along with the California Institute of Technology and the University of California - China, India and Japan have signed on to be partners.

Scientists are excited by the news as the new telescope will allow for the study of the universe's early years, with capabilities to see up to 13 billion light years away. 

The telescope's 30 metre segmented primary mirror will allow images to appear three times sharper. 

The Silversword is an endangered plant that grows on Mauna Kea
The Silversword is an endangered plant that grows on Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea is a popular site for stargazing as the atmosphere above the volcano is extremely dry. 

This allows for infrared studies to be conducted since there is no water vapor to absorb away radiation. 

The summit is located in an area where cloud cover is kept low and free of atmospheric pollution. 

Skies can get dark as the air is very stable, and favourable laws exist preventing light pollution in the area. 

Mauna Kea's peak currently has close to a dozen telescopes.

The telescope's reign as world's largest won't last too long with a group of European countries expected to construct "The European Extremely Large Telescope," featuring a main mirror diameter of 39 meters. 

Project officials have come under fire from cultural and environmental groups. 

Some native Hawaiian organizations are angry the project is being built on sacred ground. 

Environmentalists aren't happy that the telescope is being constructed on the habitats of endangered species including the Mauna Kea Silversword plant and the Wekiu bug. 

Despite the opposition, officials approved the project as long as 12 conditions are met, including employees must be trained in culture and natural resources.

The total project is expected to cost around $1 billion (US).

Construction should be completed by 2018.

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