Saturday, June 12, 2010


The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) appears to be going ahead at full speed following the recent approval by the Mauna Kea Management Board and sign off by the Governor of Hawaii of the environmental impact statement (EIS). The $77 million design phase was completed with funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and Canada. The early construction phase has begun with $200 million from the Moore Foundation and $50 million each from Caltech and the University of California. Canadian partners have proposed to supply the enclosure, the telescope structure, and the first light adaptive optics.

The construction, which is expected to be complete in 2018, has increased in price to $1 billion, sending TMT staff in search of additional funding. TMT is counting on funding from the University of California, Caltech, and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy. The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) joined TMT as a Collaborating Institution in 2008. The National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC) joined as an Observer in 2009 and this week India also joined as an Observer member.

By the end of this summer the TMT must get over another hurdle when the National Science Foundation (NSF) publishes its Astro2010 Report which recommends the priorities for technical and scientific astronomy activities over the next decade for the NSF, NASA, Department of Energy, and Congress. The stakes are high for the TMT because to maintain momentum in funding their design must be technically desirable and feasible when compared to the competing project the GMT.

The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), designed by MIT and Carnegie Mellon University, is a 25.4 meter telescope, 4.6 meters smaller than the TMT. Unlike the TMT which is a new design, the GMT is based on technology developed and validated by their 6.5-meter Magellan telescopes currently operating in Chile. The construction of the new telescope has been endorsed by Carnegie Institution for Science’s board which authorized $59.2 million for the design, construction, and commissioning of the telescope to supplement the $19.9 million they have already committed to the project. The GMT recently signed an agreement with the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory Mirror Lab to produce the first mirror for the new telescope which is planned for completion in 2016 at Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. Other GMT members are Carnegie Observatories, Harvard University, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, University of Arizona, University of Michigan, University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, Australian National University, Astronomy Australia Limited, and South Korea’s Astronomy and Space Science Institute.

The Europeans recently approved their own version of a giant telescope called European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), expected to be complete at the Cerro Armazones site in Chile in 2018. The ELT will have a 40-meter mirror which would make it the largest of all the giant telescopes being planned.

The most prominent optical telescopes today are the Keck on Mauna Kea and the Hubble Telescope floating above the Earth. The Keck has two 10-meter telescopes making it the largest in operation today. The Keck cost over $200 million to design and build. Its annual operational costs of $11 million is covered by Caltech, the University of California, NSF, and NASA, the same funders the TMT is counting on. Hubble has only a 2.5-meter mirror, but is renowned for its price tag. Its original cost estimate of $400 million ballooned to over $2.5 billion due to a flawed mirror and the difficulty of getting to it and maintaining it in space. Hubble's cumulative costs to the US are now estimated at $6 billion and Europe's contribution at 600 million Euros.

The cost of building and maintaining giant optical telescopes is high and the number of funding Universities, Foundations, and Governments in the world are limited. The TMT has a major challenge ahead to promote the design and capabilities of its project while two other prominent optical telescope projects are simultaneously searching for funding and partners.


Anonymous said...

And we should care about this-WHY?
Unless you are an astronomy nerd, it is totally irrelevant to anyone's day to day life.

Anonymous said...

"We" should care because of the large amounts of money that will be pumped into the Big Island economy for years to come.

chowse said...

Scientific research is critical to the advancement of everyone on the planet. We wouldnt be able to communicate this way if not for research and development of technological spinoffs that arise as scientists follow threads of scientific inquiry. Our hawaiian ancestors valued astronomical knowledge because understanding the spatial arrangement of the stars to the islands of the pacific was the key to survival. It is no different today, knowledge is power.

Steve said...

Annon said, June 13th;
And we should care about this-WHY?
Unless you are an astronomy nerd, it is totally irrelevant to anyone's day to day life."

Why don't you reserve your negative comments for something constructive. Your comment serves no good purpose. If you don't like this blogger's article(s) then move on.

It's his blog to do as he chooses.