A Huge Telescope in Hawaii Could Lead Us to Alien Life; First It Has to Get Off the Ground

Scientists have been dreaming about such an instrument as far back as the 1990s

Giant Telescope
Audrey McAvoy/AP

A colossal telescope with the potential to revolutionize astronomy and reveal extraterrestrial life is set for construction atop a dormant volcano on Hawaii's Big Island, NBC News reports.

But protesters have blocked the road to the summit since July, saying the planned telescope — called the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) for the diameter of its huge light-collecting mirror — would desecrate a place that Native Hawaiians deem sacred.

The impasse comes at a crucial moment for astronomers, who have maxed out the abilities of existing ground-based telescopes like Hawaii's Keck Observatory and the Gran Telescopio Canarias in the Canary Islands. Big as they are, existing telescopes' comparatively puny mirrors limit their ability to scan light from planets orbiting stars beyond our solar system; astronomers believe these exoplanets hold the answer to the question of whether life on Earth has company elsewhere in the cosmos.

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