The group planning to put a telescope on a Hawaiian mountain is now seeking permission to build in Spain because protesters are blocking the project in Hawaii.
The start of construction on the $1.4-billion telescope has been delayed several weeks because of the protests.
Hundreds of demonstrators have blocked a road leading to the top of Mauna Kea, Hawaii's highest mountain. That is where Thirty Meter Telescope wants to build their telescope. But protesters say the Mauna Kea mountaintop is holy.
The mountain is already home to several major observatories. Opponents of the project say the new telescope will further desecrate the mountain.
Scientists say the mountaintop is the best place to put the Thirty Meter Telescope, or TMT, which is aimed at helping to answer questions about the universe. The project is operated by a group of universities in California and Canada, with partners from China, India and Japan.
Hawaii's Supreme Court approved permits for the Thirty Meter Telescope project in 2018, after years of protests and legal battles. State officials recently approved a two-year extension for construction to begin on the project.
Thirty Meter Telescope's director Ed Stone said in a statement that the group still plans to build on Mauna Kea. However, it wants a backup plan in case the project cannot happen in Hawaii. So, project officials have sought a permit to build on the Spanish island of La Palma in the Canary Islands.
Stone said, We continue to follow the process to allow for TMT to be constructed at the ‘plan B' site in Spain should it not be possible to build in Hawaii.
Canary Islands Astrophysics Institute Director Rafael Rebolo confirmed to the Associated Press that he had received a letter from the head of the Thirty Meter Telescope seeking a building permit. We are observing what is happening in Hawaii with the maximum respect, Rebolo said. Our position is that we are here if the TMT project needs us, he added.
Rebolo said local officials in La Palma solidly back the project and that environmental impact studies have already been carried out.
The plan to explore possible building in the Canary Islands pleased many Hawaiian activists. However, the development was not enough for protesters to end their block of the road into Mauna Kea.
The demonstrators say they are not opposed to the scientific work the telescope is designed to perform. They say they just want the research to take place somewhere else.
There's lots of good science to be done from the Canary Islands, protest organizer Kealoha Pisciotta told the AP. She said that moving the telescope project out of Hawaii would be a win for everyone.
I'm Bryan Lynn.