HONOLULU – When starlight flies across the universe billions of years ago and eventually focuses on the earth, astronomers want their telescopes to be in the best possible places to see what's out there after months of protests According to Hawaiian opponents, the international coalition that wants to build the world's largest telescope in Hawaii insists that the island's highest peak – Mauna Kea – is the best place for their $ 1.4 billion instrument.
But only just.  Officials of the 30-meter telescope admit that their security location on a summit of the Spanish Canary Island of La Palma is a comparable observation site and that the construction there neither costs more money nor takes additional time.
There is also no significant opposition to setting up the telescope on La Palma as in Hawaii, where some native Hawaiians have considered the mountain sacred and have prevented lorries from pulling Co equipment for more than a month to the summit of Mauna Kea ,
But Hawaii has advantages that scientists claim are a little better: higher altitudes, cooler temperatures, and rare moments when the state-of-the-art telescope can unleash its full potential.
"Mauna Kea occasionally has one of those magical nights," said Michael Bolte, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, a board member of Thirty Meter Telescope. "When the air above the construction site is super stable, you get images that you would not find anywhere else."
Bolte, who has used existing Mauna Kea telescopes, said these "magical" nights in Hawaii may include discoveries that could be missed on La Palma.
"Suppose one of your major scientific cases is finding life on planets orbiting other stars," he said. "The star is so much brighter than the planet you want to watch, it's really difficult."
The advanced optics and enormous size of the 30-meter telescope, especially when built in Mauna Kea's higher altitude, could enable scientists to more easily identify potentially living planets, Bolte said.
To see distant planets near bright stars, astronomers use telescopes to capture infrared light emanating from space objects.
But John Mather, an astrophysicist who won According to the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2006 for his work on the big bang theory, there are other ways to get at this data.
Mather, senior project scientist for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, is scheduled to launch space in 2021. said the new instrument will be extremely effective in collecting infrared light. The atmosphere will not affect the imaging capabilities of the telescope because it is not on Earth.
Data from the Webb telescope can be combined with information from other Earth-based telescopes to compensate for the infrared advantage of Mauna Kea has defeated La Palma, Mather said.
He said Webb will open "new terrain that you can never tackle from the ground up".
Mather also works on a longer-term solution to the problem of seeing Earth-like planets orbiting distant stars, which he compared to a "Firefly next to a Spotlight."
It is a large "star shadow" that would be shot far into space and positioned to block brig. These advances could offset the playing field between places like Mauna Kea and La Palma, said astrophysicist Avi Loeb, of the Astronomy Department of Harvard University.
One thing you need to keep in mind is that people can change the system to compensate for the slightly worse conditions, "Loeb said in Spain. "In the end, it might work just as well or even better."
Loeb agreed that Mauna Kea is a slightly better place for infrared observations. But La Palma is "an excellent place to do extraordinary science," he added.
Hawaiian opponents call themselves "protectors" of Mauna Kea and are not concerned about the benefits of their mountain for astronomers. They just want the telescope group to leave Hawaii.
That would be "a win for all," said protest leader Kealoha Pisciotta, shortly after officials of the 30-meter telescope had announced to submit a building permit application for the La Palma location a a few weeks ago.
"There is a lot to do in the Canary Islands," said Pisciotta.
Not all native Hawaiians are against the telescope. Some praise the educational and economic opportunities this would bring on the big island. Others have compared modern astronomers with their Polynesian ancestors, who navigated the Pacific using stars with their wooden outriggers and discovered new lands – including Hawaii.
Mauna Kea is almost 4300 meters above sea level, more than twice as high As a Spanish site, it already houses the largest optical telescope in the world. Like Hawaii's Big Island, Spain also has good weather, a stable atmosphere and very little light pollution.
The 30-meter telescope is a next-generation model designed to transform ground-based astronomy, allowing scientists to look deeper into space. Its large mirror produces sharper, more detailed images of space.
"You can get pictures that are 12 times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope," said Bolte in Spain, saying it would only take longer.
"Depending on the type of science you want to do, it will be a 10 percent hit to a 50 percent hit in speed," Bolte said. "You have to observe this much longer on La Palma to get the same quality data."
José Manuel Vilchez, astronomer at the Spanish Supreme Council for Scientific Research and former member of the scientific committee of the Astrophysics Institute of the Canary Islands said that the construction of the telescope on La Palma would not be a downgrade.
"We speak of the best of the best. One is a 10, the other a 9.9 ", Vilchez said. "We're talking about decimal numbers."
For astronomers, however, decimals can make the difference between seeing something out of the ordinary and missing something. Mauna Kea, as it is higher, would have a thinner atmospheric layer and would observe more in certain infrared ranges, "Vilchez said. "The ability to take a picture is smaller on La Palma."
Vilchez also said that the telescope in Spain is more strongly supported by the public, and that the cost of operating at a lesser height would be more favorable.
On Mauna Kea "They are farther from the base and costs are rising," Vilchez said. "In the Canary Islands, institutional support is 100 percent, and 99 percent of citizens support astronomy work."
This lack of opposition is something that officials can not claim for Mauna Kea The project has become "the center of the entire Hawaiian movement for sovereignty and self-determination" and reflects how native Hawaiians have "been doing for over a century" their own country ".
The attention of everyone by stopping this telescope. How can this be used to take a few steps towards the well-being of native Hawaiians? ", asked he.