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Construction of world's largest optical telescope approved

The massive Thirty Meter Telescope will be able to image objects 13 billion light years away, near the beginning of time.

Thirty Meter Telescope
Set atop Mauna Kea, the Thirty Meter Telescope will be able to observe planets outside our solar system.
Courtesy TMT Observatory Corporation

If you love eye-popping images of space, here's welcome news: the Hawaiian Board of Land and Natural Resources has backed building what's to be the world's largest, most powerful optical telescope above the clouds atop the volcano Mauna Kea.

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) will have a primary mirror of 492 segments measuring some 100 feet across, giving it the power to image objects 13 billion light years away, near the beginning of the universe.

It may also photograph planets outside our solar system with unprecedented detail.

The focus of a collaboration among scientists in California, Canada, Japan, China, and India, the instrument will have 144 times the light-collecting area of the Hubble Space Telescope and nearly 10 times that of one of the Keck telescopes.

Despite opposition from some environmentalists and native Hawaiian groups, construction of the next-generation observatory will begin in a year and is expected to cost over $1 billion. The TMT is slated to begin scientific studies in 2021.

The TMT will operate in wavelengths from the ultraviolet to the mid-infrared. It will work with the planned James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble's successor, to peer into the early ages of the universe.

The TMT's supremacy, however, may not last long. It's slated to be outclassed by the European Extremely Large Telescope, which will have a 137-foot mirror when it begins operations in 2021 in Chile.

Meanwhile, the TMT needs final approval from Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources, as well as a sublease from the University of Hawaii, which leases the land on Mauna Kea from the state.

Check out some more pics of this amazing tool in the gallery below.

(Via AP)