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Thirty Meter Telescope Receives Permit

Thirty Meter Telescope

The TMT, with the latest innovations in precision control, segmented mirror design, and adaptive optics to correct for the blurring effect of Earth’s atmosphere, will give scientists an unparalleled view of the Universe. Art courtesy TMT Project.

The University of Hawai‘i has been granted a Conservation District Use Permit (CDUP) to build and operate the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea. The Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) of Hawai’i’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) granted the permit at the BLNR’s meeting on February 25. At this meeting, the BLNR also granted a contested case hearing at the request of petitioners. It will be addressed at a separate meeting.

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. It will have a segmented mirror like those on the Keck telescopes atop Mauna Kea, but with a total of 492 segments, compared with 36 segments in each Keck mirror. The TMT will also have an adaptive optics system to correct for the blurring effect of Earth’s atmosphere, enabling it to see the Universe as clearly as if the telescope were in space. The TMT’s presence on Mauna Kea will ensure that Hawai`i remains a leader in astronomy well into this century. UH scientists will receive a guaranteed share of the observing time on TMT.

The CDUP is the final step in a multiyear process that began in July 2009, when TMT’s Board of Directors selected Mauna Kea as the preferred site for the telescope. This selection followed an unprecedented five-year global campaign to identify locations with the best atmospheric and environmental conditions for observing. IfA played a major role in assisting with the site testing on Mauna Kea, and has been advising the project on the many technical aspects of site design and development.

UH and the TMT completed an environmental impact statement that was finalized and approved in 2010, and followed by the conservation district use application. UH Hilo, through its Office of Mauna Kea Management (OMKM), took the lead on these activities. OMKM has also conducted the design review process for TMT, as required by the Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan. The TMT now requires a sublease from UH, which leases the Science Reserve from the DLNR. The sublease requires approval by the UH Board of Regents, the TMT Board, and the BLNR.

The TMT has pledged to give $1 million per year for the lifespan of the observatory to the Hawai`i Island community for education, and promised to focus on developing local talent and hiring local people for staff positions. Details are still being worked out, but it is expected that TMT will also contribute substantially to the cost of managing the Mauna Kea Science Reserve.

The TMT project is an international partnership among the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy, joined by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Department of Science and Technology of India.