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Over Protests, Court Approves Huge Telescope on Hawaii's Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea is the largest mountain in the world, bigger than Mount Everest when measured from the sea floor.

Because of its height and position on the Earth, it is also the site of some of the world's largest telescopes. One -- planned to be the biggest in the Northern Hemisphere -- has been at the center of protests because the mountain is considered sacred in traditional Hawaiian culture.

Even so, the Hawaii Supreme Court has approved a construction permit for the Thirty Meter Telescope. It may not work out in the long run, however, because Mauna Kea is also a volcano.

Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea, which hasn't erupted for 3,600 years, is part of land that belonged to the Hawaiian Kingdom before the nation was overthrown in 1893. As part of the transition to statehood in 1959, it is now administered by the government.

In 1968, the state leased 11,000 acres of the mountaintop to the University of Hawaii for $1 a year. The university has since subleased the land to various astronomical organizations.

The Thirty Meter Telescope project has been a flashpoint for protestors who stopped the groundbreaking and blockaded the mountain in 2014. Joined by environmentalists, Native Hawaiian groups said the telescopes polluted the mountain.

The Supreme Court of Hawaii rescinded a construction permit for the TMT two years ago on procedural grounds, but the high court cleared the way in its latest decision. It affirmed an agency decision to issue a new permit for the $1.43 billion project on Mauna Kea.

Mauna Loa

Mauna Loa, an active volcano, rises above Hawaii's Big Island just 35 miles to the northeast. It is the biggest volcano on Earth.

Kilauea, which recently destroyed hundreds of homes and thousands of acres there, is connected to Mauna Loa. Scientists believe Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea are on different lava tracks -- for now.

In other words, Mauna Kea is not likely to erupt any time soon. Protests, however, are very likely to continue.

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