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Protests Disrupt Telescope Groundbreaking In Hawaii

Promising to be one of the world's largest telescopes, Thirty Meter will be built to help scientists study the universe from a distance of about 13 billion light years. Astronomers chose Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii because the elevation of 14,000 feet was ideal for observation.

But the project, which will cost $1.4 billion, has its opponents. Some are concerned that the land, which is considered a sacred spot for Native Hawaiians, was not properly appraised by the .

During the project's groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday, which was webcast on Thirty Meter Telescope's official website, yelling could be heard in the background of the blessing.

Stephanie Nagata, director of the Office of Mauna Kea Management, told The Associated Press that several dozen protesters even blocked the roads to the telescope, prevented a caravan of vehicles from taking visitors, which included dignitaries from around the world, to the event. But the protest group denied they had blocked any traffic, pointing instead to the police.

"They laid down the road right there," said Kealoha Pisciotta, who was with the group Mauna Kea Anaina Hou. "That's what stopped the caravan." Pisciotta also said her group didn't intend to stop the blessing and later apologized for interrupting it. "We said aloha to each other and we hugged."

The non-profit TMT Observatory Corp was founded in 2003 by the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy, the University of California, and the California Institute of Technology. The telescope's main mirror is designed to be 100 feet in diameter.

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