Friday, March 20, 2020

Something that can only be seen with a microscope meets the telescope

TMT protesters downsize camp for time being amid coronavirus concerns

By Timothy Hurley  March 19, 2020, Honolulu Star-Advertiser   

The Thirty Meter Telescope protest camp was expected to swell this week as spring break offered a chance for many in Hawaii who oppose the project to join the front lines.

Instead, people are being discouraged from visiting, and the camp at the base of Mauna Kea is downsizing in response to safety concerns linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re urging people to go home and shelter themselves,” said Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, one of the leaders of the largely Native Hawaiian movement opposing construction of the $2.4 billion telescope project...

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Meanwhile, away from the ranch:

Recently, in what amounted to a kind of cosmic Supreme Court hearing, two giant telescope projects pleaded for their lives before a committee charged with charting the future of American astronomy. Either of the telescopes — the Thirty Meter Telescope, slated for the top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, and the Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile — would be roughly three times larger and 10 times more powerful than anything now on Earth. Working in concert, they could tackle deep questions about the cosmos. But they are hundreds of millions of dollars short of the money needed to build them.

Failure to build them, American astronomers say, would cede dominion over the skies to Europe, which is building its own behemoth observatory in Chile, and which will be available only to European researchers. The prospective builders fear an echo of a moment in the late 20th century when scientists in the United States lost ground in particle physics to European researchers, and never really recovered in producing path-making discoveries in that field...

The U.S. community was present in the form of a dozen astronomers who were sitting around an open square table that took up most of the conference room. They were the Panel on Optical and Infrared Observatories from the Ground, part of a larger effort known as the Decadal Survey, convened by the National Academy of Sciences every 10 years to set priorities for astronomy and give advice to the government on where to spend money...

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