Thirty Meter Telescope

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Thirty Meter Telescope
Top view of tmt complex.jpg
Artist rendering
Organization TMT International Observatory
Location Mauna Kea Observatory 13 North[1][2]
Coordinates 19°49′58″N 155°28′54″W / 19.8327°N 155.4816°W / 19.8327; -155.4816Coordinates: 19°49′58″N 155°28′54″W / 19.8327°N 155.4816°W / 19.8327; -155.4816[3]
Altitude 4,050 m or 13,290 ft[2]
Wavelength Near UV, visible, and Mid-IR (0.31–28 μm)
Built Postponed
First light est. 2022[4]
Telescope style Segmented Ritchey–Chrétien telescope
Diameter 30 m or 98 ft
Secondary dia. 3.1 m or 10 ft
Tertiary dia. 2.5 m × 3.5 m or 8.2 ft × 11.5 ft
Collecting area 655 m2 or 7,050 sq ft[2]
Focal length f/15 (450 m)[2]:52
Mounting Altitude/azimuth
Dome Spherical calotte

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is a planned, ground-based, large segmented mirror reflecting telescope that has caused protests and demonstrations around the world over its proposed location. One of five proposed sites for the telescope was Mauna Kea in the state of Hawaii in the United States. This preferred location was eventually chosen for the project despite objections from Native Hawaiians, environmentalists and others. As of April 2015 its construction has been halted voluntarily due to protests about lack of indigenous peoples' consent, which began locally then spread globally.[5]

The telescope is designed for observations from near-ultraviolet to mid-infrared (0.31 to 28 μm wavelengths). In addition, its adaptive optics system will help correct for image blur caused by the atmosphere of the Earth, helping it to reach the potential of such a large mirror. Amongst existing and planned extremely large telescopes, the TMT will have by far the highest altitude, and will be the second-largest telescope after the E-ELT, both of which use arrays of small 1.44 m hexagonal mirrors — a design vastly different from the large mirrors of the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) or Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT).[6] The TMT has government-level support from two large R&D spending nations — China and Japan. as well as other top R&D nations, including Canada and India.[7] The United States, through its National Science Foundation, has so far declined to commit to funding the project.[8][9]

The telescope was given approval by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources in April 2013.[10] The Intermediate Court of Appeals of the State of Hawai'i declined to hear an appeal of the permit until the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources first issued a decision from a contested case hearing that could then be appealed to the court.[11] Construction of the telescope began on July 28, 2014[12] and the dedication and ground-breaking ceremony was held, but interrupted by native Hawaiian protesters on October 7, 2014.[13][14][15] The project has now become the focal point of escalating political conflict,[16][17] police arrests,[18][19][20] and continuing litigation due to concerns over proper use of conservation lands,[21][22] continued environmental degradation and the process of environmental and cultural impact review,[23][24] the status of the Hawaii ceded land trust,[25] native Hawaiian cultural practice and religious rights,[26] and concerns over the lack of meaningful and inclusive dialogue during the permitting process.[27]


In the late 1980s a number of European countries decided to build the world's largest optical telescope. In total, eight countries including Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and what was the country of West Germany joined the European Southern Observatory at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. The Very Large Telescope or VLT was designed to have the ability to gather as much light as a single mirror 16 meters wide. The largest single mirror telescope at that time was only 6 meters.[28]

Beginning in 2000, astronomers began considering the potential of telescopes larger than 20 meters in diameter. Two technologies were considered; segmented mirrors like that of the Keck Observatory and the use of a group of 8 meter mirrors mounted to form a single unit.[29] The US National Academy of Sciences made a suggestion that a thirty meter telescope should be the focus of US astronomy interests and recommended it be built within the decade.[30] The University of California, along with Caltech began development of a 30 meter telescope that same year. This would eventually become the Thirty Meter Telescope. The TMT would have nine times the collecting area of the older Keck telescope using slightly smaller mirror segments in a vastly larger group.[29] The TMT will also have three times the detail. Other telescopes of a large diameter are also in the works including the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) with a 21.5 meter mirror and the European-Extremely Large Telescope being built in northern Chile.[31]


TMT would be a general purpose observatory capable of investigating a broad range of astrophysical problems. A science case prepared by the TMT Foundation outlines the following aims for the observatory:[32]

By design, TMT complements the scientific capabilities of the James Webb Space Telescope and Atacama Large Millimeter Array.

Observatory design[edit]


Thirty Meter Telescope design (late 2007).

The centerpiece of the TMT Observatory is to be a Ritchey-Chrétien telescope with a 30-metre (98 ft) diameter primary mirror. This mirror is to be segmented and consist of 492 smaller (1.4 m), individual hexagonal mirrors. The shape of each segment, as well as its position relative to neighboring segments, will be controlled actively.[citation needed]

A 3-metre (9.8 ft) secondary mirror is to produce an unobstructed field-of-view of 20 arcminutes in diameter with a focal ratio of 15. A flat tertiary mirror is to direct the light path to science instruments mounted on large Nasmyth platforms.[citation needed]

The telescope is to have an altitude-azimuth mount. This mount will be capable of repositioning the telescope between any two points of the sky in less than 5 minutes, with a precision of 2.0 arcseconds or better. Once the celestial object is acquired, the telescope will track its motion with a precision of a few milliarcseconds.[citation needed]

The TMT moving mass (including instruments) is almost 2000 tonnes.[citation needed]

The design of the facility descends from the successful W. M. Keck Observatory.[citation needed]

Adaptive optics[edit]

Integral to the observatory is a Multi-Conjugate Adaptive Optics (MCAO) system. This MCAO system will measure atmospheric turbulence by observing a combination of natural (real) stars and artificial laser guide stars. Based on these measurements, a pair of deformable mirrors will be adjusted many times per second to correct optical wavefront distortions caused by the intervening turbulence.

This system will produce diffraction-limited images over a 30 arcsecond diameter field-of-view. For example, the core of the point spread function will have a size of 0.015 arcsecond at a wavelength of 2.2 micrometers, almost 10 times better than the Hubble Space Telescope.

Scientific instrumentation[edit]

Early-light capabilities[edit]

Three instruments are planned to be available for scientific observations:

  • Wide Field Optical Spectrometer (WFOS) providing near-ultraviolet and optical (0.3–1.0 μm wavelength) imaging and spectroscopy over a more than 40 square arcminute field-of-view. Using precision cut focal plane masks, WFOS would enable long-slit observations of single objects as well as short-slit observations of hundreds of objects simultaneously. WFOS would use natural (uncorrected) seeing images.
  • Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (IRIS) mounted on the observatory MCAO system, capable of diffraction-limited imaging and integral-field spectroscopy at near-infrared wavelengths (0.8–2.5 μm). Principal investigators are James Larkin of UCLA and Anna Moore of Caltech. Project scientist is Shelley Wright of the University of Toronto.[33]
  • Infrared Multi-object Spectrometer (IRMS) allowing close to diffraction-limited imaging and slit spectroscopy over a 2 arcminute diameter field-of-view at near-infrared wavelengths (0.8–2.5 μm).

Additional first-decade capabilities[edit]

For planning purposes, TMT has developed concepts for an additional six instruments, which it proposes to be deployed during the first decade of science operations. These plans have been reviewed and updated on a roughly bi-annual basis starting in 2010.

In no order of preference, planned additional scientific capabilities include:

  • Extremely high contrast (1 part in 108 @ 1.65 μm) exoplanet imaging and spectroscopy at near-infrared wavelengths
  • Diffraction-limited echelle spectroscopy (resolving power ~ 25 000) at near-infrared wavelengths (1.0–2.5 μm)
  • Diffraction-limited imaging and echelle spectroscopy (resolving power ~ 50,000) at mid-infrared wavelengths (8–28 μm)
  • High precision (~0.01 arcsecond) astrometric imaging and (<<0.001 arcsecond) astrometry at near-infrared wavelengths (1.0–2.5 μm)
  • Multiple integral-field unit spectrometers deployable over a 5 arcminute diameter field-of-view, each with individual adaptive optics correction, at near-infrared wavelengths (1.0–2.5 μm)

Protests and opposition over location[edit]

In cooperation with AURA, the TMT project completed a multi-year evaluation of five sites:

The TMT Observatory Corporation board of directors narrowed the list to two sites, one in each hemisphere, for further consideration: Cerro Armazones in Chile's Atacama Desert, and Mauna Kea on Hawai'i Island. On July 21, 2009 the TMT Board selected Mauna Kea as the preferred site.[34][35] The final TMT site selection decision was based on a combination of scientific, financial, and political criteria; ESO is also building a very large telescope E-ELT, and is doing so in Chile. If both next-generation telescopes were in the same hemisphere, there would be many astronomical objects that neither could observe. The telescope was given approval by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources in April 2013.[10] However, there was some opposition in Hawaii to the building of the telescope,[36] based on potential disruption to the fragile glacial environment of Mauna Kea due to construction, traffic and noise, which is a concern for habitat disruption of several species,[37] and to the fact that Mauna Kea is a sacred site for the Native Hawaiian culture.[38][39]

Hawaiian cultural practitioners cite impacts to indigenous cultural practice, while recreational users have argued that construction harms the scenic viewplane, and environmentalists are concerned that irreparable ecological damage may be done by construction. All three groups are represented amongst the petitioners opposing the TMT.[40] According to State of Hawaiʻi law HAR 13-5-30, eight key criteria must be met before construction can be allowed on conservation lands in Hawaiʻi. Among other criteria, the development may not “cause substantial adverse impact to existing natural resources within the surrounding area, community, or region,” and the "existing physical and environmental aspects of the land must be preserved or improved upon".[41]

The Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources conditionally approved the Mauna Kea site for the TMT in February 2011. The approval has been challenged; however, the Board officially approved the site following a hearing on February 12, 2013, and the TMT Foundation anticipates that construction will begin in April 2014.[42]


Protesters on Mauna Kea, standing in front of construction crews and equipment on October 7, 2014

On October 7, 2014 the groundbreaking for the telescope was being live streamed via webcam. The proceedings were interrupted when the official caravan encountered several dozen demonstrators picketing and chanting in the middle of the roadway. Some passengers in the caravan walked the rest of the way to the summit without the vehicles. The nonviolent protest did not stop or block any people but when the ceremony for the ground breaking began, protestors interrupted the blessing, stopping the proceedings as well as the groundbreaking.[43] Beginning in late March of 2015 demonstrators halted construction crews near the visitors center, again by blocking access of the road to the summit of the mountain. Heavy equipment had already been placed near the site. Daniel Meisenzahl, a spokesman for the University of Hawaii, stated that the 5 tractors trailers of equipment that were moved up the mountain the day before had alerted protestors that began organizing the demonstrations. Kamahana Kealoha of the group Sacred Mauna Kea stated that over 100 demonstrators had traveled up to the summit to camp overnight, to be joined by more protestors in the early morning to blockade crews.[44] On April 2, 2015, 300 protestors were gathered near the visitor's center where 12 people were arrested. 11 more protestors were arrested at the summit.[45] Protestors, ranging in age from 27 to 75 years of age were handcuffed and led away by local police.[46] Among the major concerns of the protest groups is whether the land appraisals were done accurately and that Native Hawaiians were not consulted. When the trucks were finally allowed to pass, protestors followed the procession up the summit. A project spokesman said that work had begun after arrests were made and the road cleared. The project is expected to be completed by 2024, nearly simultaneously with the 39-meter, European Extremely Large Telescope being built in Chile.[45]

Among the arrests was professional surfer and former candidate for mayor of Kauai, Dustin Barca. A number of celebrity activists of Native Hawaiian descent, both local and national, began campaigning over social media, including Game of Thrones star, Jason Mamoa who urged Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) to join the protests with him on top of Mauna Kea.[47] Construction was halted for one week at the request of Hawaii State Governor, David Ige on April 7, 2015 after the protest on Mauna Kea continued and demonstrations began to appear over the state. Project Manager, Gary Sanders stated that TMT agreed to the one week stop for continued dialogue. Kealoha Pisciotta, president of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou viewed the development as positive but said opposition to the project would continue.[48] The following day, the governor announced that the project was being temporarily postponed until at least April 20, 2015.[49] In response to the growing protests the TMT Corporation's division of Hawaii Community Affairs launched an internet microsite, updating content regularly.[50] The company also took to social media to respond to the opposition's growing momentum by hiring public relations firms to assist as the company's voice in the islands.[51]


Sunset over four current telescopes of Mauna Kea Observatories. From left to right: Subaru, the two Kecks, and IRTF

The TMT Observatory Corporation is a partnership between:

The current US$80 million, five-year design and development program is planned for completion in 2012.[52] Construction is expected to commence immediately thereafter, leading to initial science operations in 2018.[52] The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has committed US$200 million for construction. Caltech and University of California have committed an additional US$50 million each. TMT is actively seeking additional major partners for the construction and operations phase.

  • In 2008, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) joined TMT as a Collaborating Institution.[53]
  • In 2009, the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC) joined TMT as an Observer.[54][55]
  • In 2010, a consortium of Indian Astronomy Research Institutes (IIA, IUCAA and ARIES) joined TMT project as an observer. The observer status is the first step in becoming a full partner in TMT and participating in the engineering development and scientific use of the observatory (Subject to approval of funding from Indian Government).
  • In 2012, India and China became partners, with representatives on the TMT board. China and India will pay a share of the telescope construction costs, expected to top $1 billion.[56][57]

Japan, which has its own large telescope at Mauna Kea, the 8.3-metre Subaru, is also a partner.[58]

TMT has received design and development funding from the following public and private organizations:


The telescope cost was estimated in 2009 to be $970 million[59] to $1.4 billion;[34] the funding had not been completely raised by mid-2011, although $100 million had already been spent on design, engineering and site-assessment work.

  • Canada - The continued financial commitment from the Canadian government had been in doubt due to economic pressures.[60][61] Nevertheless, on April 6, 2015 Prime Minster Stephan Harper announced that Canada would commit $243.5 million over 10 years.[62] The structure will be built by Dynamic Structures Ltd. in British Columbia, and then shipped to Mauna Kea.[63]


Comparison of nominal sizes of primary mirrors of the Thirty Meter Telescope and some notable optical telescopes (click for detail)
Hubble floats free after its 2009 servicing

At wavelengths longer than 0.8 μm, adaptive optics correction would enable observations with ten times the spatial resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope. TMT would be more sensitive than existing ground-based telescopes by factors of 10 (natural seeing mode) to 100 (adaptive optics mode). If completed on schedule, TMT could be the first of the new generation of Extremely Large Telescopes.[citation needed]

See also[edit]




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  2. ^ a b c d Thirty Meter Telescope Construction Proposal (PDF), TMT Observatory Corporation, 2007-09-12, p. 29, retrieved 2009-07-24 
  3. ^ Sanders, Gary H (2005-01-11), [79.03] The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) Project (PDF), p. 17 
  4. ^ Callis, Tom (29 July 2014). "TMT to begin construction". West Hawaii Today. 
  5. ^ Gutierrez, Ben (10 April 2015). "Protest against Thirty Meter Telescope spreading worldwide". Honolulu: Hawaii News Now. 
  6. ^ Anderson, Mark (13 March 2014). "The Billion-Dollar Telescope Race". Nautilus. New York: NautilusThink. 
  7. ^ "Megascope member". Seven Days. Nature (paper) 516 (7530): 148. 11 December 2014. India announced on 2 December that it will become a full partner in the Thirty Meter Telescope.... 
  8. ^ Yudhijit Bhattacharjee (2013-03-19). "Thirty Meter Telescope Gets Small Grant to Make Big Plans". Science, journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved 2015-04-06. 
  9. ^ Yudhijit Bhattacharjee (2012-01-03). "Giant Telescopes Face NSF Funding Delay". Science, journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved 2015-04-06. 
  10. ^ a b "Massive telescope to be built in Hawaii". 3 News NZ. April 15, 2013. 
  11. ^ Jamie Winpenny (2013-06-26). "The Uncertain Future of Mauna Kea". Big Island Weekly. Retrieved 2014-03-11. 
  12. ^ Next-Generation "Thirty Meter Telescope Begins Construction in Hawaii". TMT. 
  13. ^ KITV4 News (2014-10-07). "Protesters disrupt Mauna Kea telescope groundbreaking". KITV4 News. Retrieved 2015-04-04. 
  14. ^ The Two-way, National Public Radio (2014-10-08). "Protesters disrupt telescope groundbreaking in Hawaii". NPR: National Public Radio. Retrieved 2015-04-04. 
  15. ^ Beatty, J. Kelly. "Work begins on Thirty Metre Telescope". Australian Sky & Telescope (Odysseus Publishing Pty Ltd) (83): 11. ISSN 1832-0457. 
  16. ^ Peter Apo (2015-04-02). "Peter Apo: Mauna Kea under siege". Honolulu Civil Beat. Retrieved 2015-04-04. 
  17. ^ Lynn Beittel (2015-04-01). "VIDEO: Why block TMT on Mauna Kea?". Big Island Video News. Retrieved 2015-04-04. 
  18. ^ KITV4 News (2015-04-02). "Protesters arrested blocking road to giant telescope site". KITV4 News. Retrieved 2015-04-04. 
  19. ^ Jamilia Epping (2015-04-03). "DLNR makes additional protest arrests". Big Island Retrieved 2015-04-04. 
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  24. ^ Rose Tseng (2015-04-03). "Final Environmental Impact Statement, Thirty Meter Telescope Project, Island of Hawaii, Volume 2" (PDF). Honolulu Civil Beat. Retrieved 2015-04-04. 
  25. ^ Kristine Kubat (2015-04-03). "Why everyone should support the telescope construction blockade". Honolulu Civil Beat. Retrieved 2015-04-04. 
  26. ^ Dominique Saks (2011-11-19). "Indigenous religious traditions: Mauna Kea". Colorado College. Retrieved 2015-04-04. 
  27. ^ Chad Blair (2015-04-04). "OHA trustee calls for moratorium on Mauna Kea telescope". Honolulu Civil Beat and KITV4 News. Retrieved 2015-04-04. 
  28. ^ Reed Business Information (17 December 1987). New Scientist. Reed Business Information. p. 16. ISSN 02624079. 
  29. ^ a b Martin Ratcliffe (1 February 2008). State of the Universe 2008: New Images, Discoveries, and Events. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 165. ISBN 978-0-387-73998-4. 
  30. ^ A.P. Lobanov; J.A. Zensus; C. Cesarsky; Ph. Diamond (15 February 2007). Exploring the Cosmic Frontier: Astrophysical Instruments for the 21st Century. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 24. ISBN 978-3-540-39756-4. 
  31. ^ Govert Schilling; Lars Lindberg Christensen (7 December 2011). Eyes on the Skies: 400 Years of Telescopic Discovery. John Wiley & Sons. p. 45. ISBN 978-3-527-65705-6. 
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  33. ^ "IRIS Home Page". 2010-10-05. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  34. ^ a b Xin, Ling (October 9, 2014). "TMT opening ceremony interrupted by protests". Science. Retrieved 10 October 2014. 
  35. ^ McAvoy, Audrey (July 21, 2009), "World's largest telescope to be built in Hawaii", Washington Post [dead link]
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  37. ^ "Summit Ecosystems — KAHEA". Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
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  39. ^ "Hawaii Tribune Herald". Hawaii Tribune Herald. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
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  41. ^ "Conservation District" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-03-11. 
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  44. ^ Davis, Chelsea (March 26, 2015). "Thirty Meter Telescope protesters continue to block construction on Mauna Kea". WorldNow and KHNL. KHNL. Retrieved 4 April 2015. 
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  46. ^ "Police, TMT Issue Statements on Mass Arrests on Mauna Kea". Big Island Video News. Big Island Video News. April 2, 2015. Retrieved 4 April 2015. 
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  49. ^ Yoro, Sarah (April 11, 2015). "Thirty Meter Telescope construction delayed". LIN Television Corporation, a Media General company. KHON2. Retrieved 15 April 2015. 
  50. ^ "Hawaii's Thirty Meter Telescope launches informational microsite online". American City Business Journals. Pacific Business News. April 14, 2015. Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  51. ^ Gill, Lorin Eleni (April 16, 2015). "Thirty Meter Telescope project in Hawaii responds to opposition with website, social media". American City Business Journals. Pacific Business news. Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  52. ^ a b Thirty Meter Telescope operations page, TMT Observatory Project, retrieved 2010-10-12 
  53. ^ "Thirty Meter Telescope". 2009-04-01. Retrieved 2012-08-06. 
  54. ^ "Thirty Meter Telescope". 2009-11-17. Retrieved 2012-08-06. 
  55. ^ "China, India to jump forward with Hawaii telescope". Associated Press. Retrieved January 12, 2012. 
  56. ^ "Construction of 30-meter optical telescope to begin next year". The Economic Times. 23 January 2013. Retrieved 23 January 2013. 
  57. ^ "China, India to work for largest telescope". The Hindu. Retrieved January 13, 2012. 
  58. ^ "India Joins Thirty Meter Telescope Project | Thirty Meter Telescope". 2010-06-24. Retrieved 2012-08-06. 
  59. ^ Mann, Adam (November 16, 2009). "Titanic Thirty Meter Telescope Will See Deep Space More Clearly". Wired. Retrieved 18 October 2010. 
  60. ^ Mariella Moon (2015-03-18). "Canada's economic issues might affect Thirty Meter Telescope's future". Retrieved 2015-04-04. 
  61. ^ Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (2013-10-10). "World's largest telescope stalled by Canadian funding woes". Retrieved 2015-04-04. 
  62. ^ "Canada finally commits its share of funds for Thirty Meter Telescope". CBC News. 
  63. ^ Semeniuk, Ivan. "With $243-million contribution, Canada signs on to mega-telescope in search of first stars and other Earths". Globe and Mail. 

External links[edit]