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Faced with a continuing legal battle to build the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), the consortium running is now seriously considering alternative sites.
Potential Northern Hemisphere sites include San Pedro Mártir in Baja California in Mexico and Roque de los Muchachos on La Palma, a Spanish island off the Atlantic coast of Morocco. “Our friends in La Palma are pushing hard” to get the TMT, says Matt Mountain, president of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C. But neither alternative matches the seeing conditions on Mauna Kea, and they would bring extra cost and complication. The project has already ruled out sites in the Himalayas, put forward by India and China—both TMT partners along with the United States, Japan, and Canada—because they are too far from ports and have short construction seasons.
The TMT governors are expected to choose their top alternative site later this month. Regardless of what happens in Hawaii, the governors have vowed to start construction—on Mauna Kea or elsewhere—no later than April 2018.
It is clear that Mauna Kea in Hawaii is the best location. Unfortunately, they are faced with the reality that there might be years of delays before they ever get permission to build, if they get permission at all.