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Thirty Meter Telescope Selects Mauna Kea

by Louise Good

artist's rendering of TMT

The TMT will integrate the latest innovations in precision control, segmented mirror design, and adaptive optics to correct for the blurring effect of Earth's atmosphere, enabling the TMT to study the Universe as clearly as if the telescope were in space. Courtesy TMT Observatory Corporation.

On July 21, the TMT Observatory Corporation announced that its board of directors has selected Mauna Kea as the preferred site for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). Building on the success of the 10-meter twin Keck telescopes (now the world's largest), the 30-meter primary mirror will be composed of 492 segments. This will give TMT nine times the collecting area of today's largest optical telescopes. IfA Director Rolf Kudritzki said after the announcement that this will ensure that "UH will keep leadership in astronomy for at least the next 50 years."

Scheduled for completion in 2018, the TMT will enable astronomers to detect and study light from the earliest stars and galaxies and test many of the fundamental laws of physics. To achieve these outstanding results, the TMT will integrate the latest innovations in precision control, segmented mirror design, and adaptive optics to correct for the blurring effect of Earth's atmosphere, enabling the TMT to study the Universe as clearly as if the telescope were in space.

IfA astronomer Mike Liu is looking forward to using the TMT. He said, "Thanks to its large mirror and advanced adaptive optics system, TMT will provide the sharpest images ever obtained of planets around other stars. This will allow us to observe them in the process of forming and to measure their temperatures and compositions.  Such measurements will tell us how our own solar system formed and if similar systems are common throughout the Galaxy."

Before construction can begin on Mauna Kea, the TMT must apply for and receive a Conservation District Use Permit from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. This will be done through the community-based Office of Mauna Kea Management, which oversees the Mauna Kea summit as part of the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

The TMT project is an international partnership among the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, and ACURA, an organization of Canadian universities. The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan joined TMT as a Collaborating Institution in 2008. As with the other telescopes on Mauna Kea, UH astronomers will be guaranteed a certain percentage of the observing time.