Construction of what is billed to be the most advanced and optically powerful telescope on the planet got off to a rough start this week by protesters objecting to the observatory's location at the summit of Mauna Kea, on Hawaii's Big Island.
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"The groundbreaking and blessing ceremony for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), hindered by a small group of protesters for a brief time, took place," the California Institute of Technology, one of the primary partners in the $1.4 billion project, said in a statement on Tuesday.
"All the partners ... are looking forward to proceeding with the production of TMT as planned," Caltech said.
The site is considered sacred to some native Hawaiians, who have raised concerns about environmental and cultural impacts of the project.
The Los Angeles Times reports that some guests planning to the attend Tuesday's groundbreaking were not able to make it to the ceremony. The protest also interrupted a live webcast of the event.
Construction will not be delayed by the protest, Caltech spokeswoman Judy Asbury told the Times.
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With a resolution expected to be 10- to 12 times sharper than the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope's, the TMT is intended to peer farther back in cosmic time, pushing the boundaries of observational astronomy.
"Its giant mirror, nearly 100 feet across, promises the highest definition views of planets orbiting nearby stars and the first stars and galaxies in the distant universe," Caltech scientist Ed Stone, executive director of the TMT International Observatory, said in a statement.
TMT will be comprised of 492 reflective mirrors that together will create a light-gathering surface that is 98 feet (30 meters) across. Software known as "adaptive optics" will mitigate the blurring effects of Earth's atmosphere.
Observations are expected to begin in 2022.
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In addition to Caltech, TMT partners include the University of California, the National Institutes of Natural Sciences/National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy and the Indian Institute of Astrophysics.
A video of the events that unfolded at Mauna Kea's summit can be seen here, filmed by independent journalist David Corrigan: