HONOLULU -- The University of Hawaii is set to consider whether to lease land at the summit of Mauna Kea for construction of the world's largest optical telescope.
At a meeting Thursday, the Board of Regents plans to discuss subleasing land at the summit of the Big Island volcano for the Thirty Meter Telescope. The university leases the land from the state.
Officials hope to begin construction of the telescope later this year and start operations in 2021.
The telescope would be used to observe planets that orbit stars other than the sun and would enable astronomers to watch new planets and stars being formed. It should help scientists see some 13 billion light years away for a glimpse into the early years of the universe.
The project was initiated by the University of California, California Institute of Technology and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy. Observatories and institutions in China, India and Japan later signed on as partners.
Some Native Hawaiians oppose the project because they believe it would defile the summit that they consider sacred. Environmentalists say the telescope would harm the rare wekiu bug.
The Board of Regents unanimously voted to support the project nearly four years ago.
The state Board of Land and Natural Resources issued a permit in April to build the observatory at the summit, an area classified as conservation lands. That decision cleared the way for backers off the telescope to negotiate a sublease with the university.
Opponents challenged the permit with an appeal to the Third Circuit Court in Hilo. They want to force the state land board to uphold its public trust duties to protect natural and cultural resources involved in traditional Hawaiian practices.