Large Millimeter Telescope

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Large Millimeter Telescope
Organization National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics and Electronics, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Location Volcán Sierra Negra
Coordinates 18°59′09″N 97°18′53″W / 18.98583°N 97.31472°W / 18.98583; -97.31472Coordinates: 18°59′09″N 97°18′53″W / 18.98583°N 97.31472°W / 18.98583; -97.31472[1]
Altitude 4,640 metres (15,200 ft)
Wavelength 0.85–4 mm (75–350 GHz)
Built 2001-2010
First light 2011-06-17[2]
Telescope style Bent Cassegrain
Diameter 50 m
Secondary dia. 2.5 m
Angular resolution 5″ at 1 mm
Collecting area 1960 m²
Focal length 525 m
Mounting Altitude-azimuth

The Large Millimeter Telescope (LMT) (Spanish: Gran Telescopio Milimétrico, or GTM) was inaugurated in Mexico on 22 November 2006. It is the world's largest and most sensitive single-aperture telescope in its frequency range, built for observing radio waves in the wave lengths from approximately 0.85 to 4 mm. It has an active surface with a diameter of 50 metres and 2000 m² of collecting area.

Location of the LMT.

It is located within Chalchicomula de Sesma municipality, on top of the Sierra Negra, the fifth highest peak in Mexico and an extinct volcanic companion to Mexico's highest mountain, the Pico de Orizaba, in the state of Puebla. Its construction took 10 years, and cost 116 million dollars. It is a binational Mexican (80%) – American (20%) joint project of the Instituto Nacional de Astrofísica, Óptica y Electrónica (INAOE) and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Millimeter wavelength observations using the LMT will give astronomers a view of regions which are obscured by dust in the interstellar medium, thus increasing our knowledge about star formation. The telescope is also particularly fitted for observing solar system planetesimals and planets and extra-solar protoplanetary disks which are relatively cold and emit most of their radiation at millimeter wavelengths. There are also proposals for observing fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background as well as active galactic nuclei.


High costs[edit]

Up to 2012, the total reported inversion of the GTM had surpassed the 1,548.6 million Mexican pesos[3] (around 130 million USD). On the other hand the project will have operation costs above 10 million USD per year,[4] which makes it the largest and most expensive scientific venture in Mexico's history.

The above is a major investment for a developing country like Mexico, and thus the project has been promoted in the Mexican press, pointing out that given the expected characteristics of the telescope (once fully finished and working), as "a motive of pride for Mexico".[5] However, it has been also put into question why a project that will benefit only a segment of the already small Mexican astronomical community has received much more support than research projects in more sensible areas like agriculture, energy, medicine, health, transportation, etc. that have a direct impact on the population as a whole (see below).

Accusations of Fraud, scientific scams, and delays in finishing the project[edit]

The telescope construction had lasted more than 15 years without producing any scientific results, nevertheless it was "inaugurated" on two occasions during the governments of Mexican presidents Vicente Fox Quesada and Felipe Calderon Hinojosa (both from the political party National Action), when it was announced to the press that had already seen "its first light" during the ceremonies, and that it was ready for operation. This was not true as the antenna was not finished and fake non-functional wood panels were used to cover the plate area. It was well known at INAOE that the telescope was not ready and that the ceremonies were just theatrical (to please the presidents and 'fool' the public through the press); however, this was reported to the press by a former worker of the project [6] who exposed the action as a derision and insult towards Mexican people (i.e., the taxpayers).

INAOE scientists replied to the critics only by pointing out again that once it was really finished, the contributions may be of importance for the astronomical community, and that the inauguration ceremonies were only "inspection visits".[7] Later they declared that just the installations (i.e. the then also unfinished buildings) were inaugurated, not the telescope. Nevertheless, after the 2006 visit, the scientists in charge of the project and INAOE's former General Director Jose Guichard Romero claimed that the telescope would be fully functional "next year" [8] (2007), pressured because they had already claimed to the Mexican press that the telescope had seen its "first light" during the visits.[9] The promise of fully finishing the telescope "next year" was repeated year after year during the administration of Guichard Romero and also during the current one.

The supposed "first light" observation of the telescope carried out in 2006 during president Calderon's visit, consisted of observing the Virgo A galaxy, which was described to the press as a "simple observation" for the telescope by the GTM project scientists.[10] However, this galaxy can be observed in the radio with indeed very simple and cheap backyard equipment with a total cost of a few thousand US dollars at most,[11] which puts into question the honesty of the scientific team as well as their respect for the Mexican citizens given the multimillion dollar costs of the GTM and the press declarations.

The fake inauguration of the telescope and the use of fake panels under the promise of great future successes is a clear example of cargo cult science.

Lack of Expertise[edit]

Unlike UNAM (the largest Mexican university) and even when the construction of the telescope was granted to them, INAOE did not have a solid dedicated group of national nor foreign radio astronomers nor the expertise necessary for operating and using a large radio telescope for scientific purposes. Because of that, a group of foreign radio astronomers was hired. Nowadays, these people are the ones most involved with the project, with less involvement from the Mexican scientists at INAOE.

The lack of expertise on the Mexican side is reflected on the fact that even the current Main Project Scientist on the Mexican side, Chavez-Dagostino, has no experience (nor publications) on radio and millimeter astronomy.


In 2012, 128 real panels were stolen from the GTM installations before they were installed. They were recovered by Mexican authorities from the house of one of the thieves after an anonymous denounce.[12]


External links[edit]