Science: Better Spyglass on the Stars

A scheme for the world's biggest optical telescope

The towering Mauna Kea, a 13,800-ft. extinct volcano in Hawaii, is a peculiar mix of the exotic. Gnarled koa trees twist up from its tropical slopes, where the endangered palila bird, a tiny yellow honey creeper, crushes rock-hard mamane seeds with its beak. But up on top, science has taken over. Because the exceptionally dry and stable atmosphere over Mauna Kea makes the site among the world's best spots for star gazing, six telescopes have been built on the volcano's crest, and two more are under construction.

Now an extraordinary newcomer will join that celestial company. The California Institute of Technology,...

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