Thirty Meter Telescope
Artist's rendering of proposed telescope
|Location(s)||Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii, United States|
|Organization||TMT International Observatory|
|Altitude||4,050 m or 13,290 ft|
|Wavelength||Near UV, visible, and Mid-IR (0.31–28 μm)|
|First light||est. 2027|
|Telescope style||Segmented Ritchey–Chrétien telescope|
|Diameter||30 m or 98 ft|
|Secondary diameter||3.1 m or 10 ft|
|Tertiary diameter||2.5 m × 3.5 m or 8.2 ft × 11.5 ft|
|Collecting area||655 m2 or 7,050 sq ft|
|Focal length||f/15 (450 m):52|
|Related media on Wikimedia Commons|
The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is a proposed extremely large telescope (ELT) that has become controversial due to its planned location on Mauna Kea, on the island of Hawaii, the most sacred mountain in Native Hawaiian culture. The TMT would become the largest visible-light telescope on Mauna Kea.
Scientists have been considering ELTs since the mid 1980s. In 2000, astronomers considered the possibility of a telescope with a light-gathering mirror larger than 20 meters in diameter. The technology to build a mirror larger than 8.4 meters does not exist; instead scientists considered using either small segments that create one large mirror, or a grouping of larger 8-meter mirrors working as one unit. The US National Academy of Sciences recommended a 30-meter telescope be the focus of U.S. interests, seeking to see it built within the decade. Scientists at the University of California and Caltech began development of a design that would eventually become the TMT, consisting of a 492-segment primary mirror with nine times the power of the Keck Observatory. Due to its light-gathering power and the optimal observing conditions which exist atop Mauna Kea, the TMT would enable astronomers to conduct research which is infeasible with current instruments. The TMT is designed for near-ultraviolet to mid-infrared (0.31 to 28 μm wavelengths) observations, featuring adaptive optics to assist in correcting image blur. The TMT will be at the highest altitude of all the proposed ELTs. The telescope has government-level support from several nations.
Demonstrations attracted press coverage after October 2014, when construction was temporarily halted due to a blockade of the roadway. While construction of the telescope was set to resume on April 2 and later on June 24, 2015, it was blocked by further protests each time. In 2015, Governor David Ige announced several changes to the management of Mauna Kea, including a requirement that the TMT's site will be the last new site on Mauna Kea to be developed for a telescope. The Board of Land and Natural Resources approved the TMT project, but the Supreme Court of Hawaii invalidated the building permits in December 2015, ruling that the board had not followed due process. On October 30, 2018, the Court approved the resumption of construction, and Hawaii Gov. David Ige announced that construction would resume the week of July 15, 2019.
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. The US National Academy of Sciences made a suggestion that a 30-meter telescope should be the focus of US astronomy interests and recommended that it be built within the decade. The University of California, along with Caltech, began development of a 30-meter telescope that same year. The California Extremely Large Telescope (CELT) began development, along with the Giant Magellan Telescope, the Giant Segmented Mirror Telescope (GSMT), and the Very Large Optical Telescope (VLOT). These studies 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. Another telescope of a large diameter in the works is the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) being built in northern Chile.
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. Among existing and planned ELTs, the TMT will have the highest elevation and will be the second-largest telescope once the E-ELT is built. Both use segments of small 1.44 m hexagonal mirrors—a design vastly different from the large mirrors of the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) or the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT). Each night, the TMT would collect 90 terabytes of data. The TMT has government-level support from the following countries: Canada, China, Japan and India. The United States is also contributing some funding, but less than the formal partnership.
In cooperation with AURA, the TMT project completed a multi-year evaluation of five sites:
- Roque de los Muchachos Observatory, La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain
- Cerro Armazones, Antofagasta Region, Republic of Chile
- Cerro Tolanchar, Antofagasta Region, Republic of Chile
- Cerro Tolar, Antofagasta Region, Republic of Chile
- Mauna Kea, Hawaii, United States (This site was chosen and approval was granted in April 2013)
- San Pedro Mártir, Baja California, Mexico
- Hanle, Ladakh, India
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 Hawaii Island. On July 21, 2009, the TMT board announced Mauna Kea as the preferred site. The final TMT site selection decision was based on a combination of scientific, financial, and political criteria. Chile is also where the European Southern Observatory is building the E-ELT. 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. There has been opposition to the building of the telescope, based on potential disruption to the fragile alpine environment of Mauna Kea due to construction, traffic, and noise, which is a concern for the habitat of several species, and because Mauna Kea is a sacred site for the Native Hawaiian culture. 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. Because of the ongoing protests that re-erupted in July 2019, the TMT project officials requested a building permit for a second site choice, the Spanish island of La Palma in the Canary Islands. Rafael Rebolo, the director of the Canary Islands Astrophysics Institute, confirmed that he had received a letter requesting a building permit for the site as a backup in case the Hawaii site cannot be constructed. However, environmentalists in the Canary Islands are gearing up to fight against its construction there as well, citing the loss of archeological and cultural sites.
Partnerships and funding
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has committed US$200 million for construction. Caltech and the University of California have committed an additional US$50 million each. Japan, which has its own large telescope at Mauna Kea, the 8.3-metre Subaru, is also a partner.
In 2008, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) joined TMT as a Collaborating Institution. The following year, the telescope cost was estimated to be $970 million to $1.4 billion. That same year, the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC) joined TMT as an observer.
On June 16, 2010, Governor Linda Lingle and University of Hawaii-Hilo Chancellor Rose Tseng attended a banquet at the Great Hall of the People at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, sponsored by the China Diplomatic Friendship Association and the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. The banquet included special guest Lu Yong Xiang, vice chairman of the Chinese People’s National Congress and head of the Chinese National Academy of Sciences who had visited Mauna Kea as part of China's intention to become a collaborative partner with the TMT. The governor gave a presentation on the two competing site locations, Mauna Kea and Cerro Armazones, Chile. Speaking at a Chinese Academy of Science conference in 1995, Lu Yong Xiang stated that by the year 2010, the academy would become one of the leading international scientific institutions with new research results in such fields as Moon exploration, evolution of the universe and of life, space micro-gravity, particle physics, and astrophysics.
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 the construction of the TMT and participating in the engineering development and scientific use of the observatory (subject to approval of funding from the Indian government). Two years later, India and China became partners with representatives on the TMT board. Both countries agreed to share the telescope construction costs, expected to top $1 billion. India became a full member of the TMT consortium in 2014. In 2019 the India based company Larsen & Toubro (L&T) were awarded the contract to build the segment support assembly (SSA), which “are complex optomechanical sub-assemblies on which each hexagonal mirror of the 30-metre primary mirror, the heart of the telescope, is mounted”. The IndiaTMT Optics Fabricating Facility (ITOFF) will be constructed at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics campus in the city of Hosakote, near Bengaluru. India will also supply 80 of the 492 mirror segments for the TMT. A.N. Ramaprakash, the associate programme director of India-TMT, stated; "All sensors, actuators and SSAs for the whole telescope are being developed and manufactured in India, which will be put together in building the heart of TMT", also adding; "Since it is for the first time that India is involved in such a technically demanding astronomy project, it is also an opportunity to put to test the abilities of Indian scientists and industries, alike."
The continued financial commitment from the Canadian government had been in doubt due to economic pressures. Nevertheless, on April 6, 2015, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Canada would commit $243.5 million over a period of 10 years. The telescope's unique enclosure was designed by Dynamic Structures Ltd. in British Columbia. In an online petition, a group of Canadian academics called on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau together with Industry Minister Navdeep Bains and Science Minister Kirsty Duncan to divest Canadian funding from the project. The Canadian astronomy community has recently named TMT its top facility priority for the decade ahead.
The TMT would be housed in a general-purpose observatory capable of investigating a broad range of astrophysical problems. The total diameter of the dome will be 217 feet with the total dome height at 180 feet (comparable in height to an eighteen-storey building). The total area of the structure is projected to be 1.44 acres within a 5-acre complex.
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.
A 3.1-metre (10 ft) secondary mirror is to produce an unobstructed field-of-view of 20 arcminutes in diameter with a focal ratio of 15. A 3.5 × 2.5 metre flat tertiary mirror is to direct the light path to science instruments mounted on large Nasmyth platforms. The telescope is to have an alt-azimuth mount. Target acquisition and system configuration capabilities need to be achieved within 5 minutes, or ten minutes if relocating to a newer device. To achieve these time limitations the TMT will use a software architecture linked by a service based communications system. The moving mass of the telescope, optics, and instruments will be 1430 tonnes. The design of the facility descends from the Keck Observatory.
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 wave-front distortions caused by the intervening turbulence.
This system will produce diffraction-limited images over a 30-arc-second diameter field-of-view, which means that the core of the point spread function will have a size of 0.015 arc-second at a wavelength of 2.2 micrometers, almost ten times better than the Hubble Space Telescope.
Three instruments are planned to be available for scientific observations:
- Wide Field Optical Spectrometer (WFOS) provides a seeing limit that goes down to the ultra violet with optical (0.3–1.0 μm wavelength) imaging and spectroscopy capable of 40-square arc-minute field-of-view. The TMT will use precision cut focal plane masks and enable long-slit observations of individual objects as well as short-slit observations of hundreds of different objects at the same time. The spectrometer will 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 UC San Diego.
- Infrared Multi-object Spectrometer (IRMS) allowing close to diffraction-limited imaging and slit spectroscopy over a 2 arc-minute diameter field-of-view at near-infrared wavelengths (0.8–2.5 μm).
Approval process and protests
This section needs to be updated. The reason given is: the IRTF website talks of the TMT suspending construction for at least 3 months from December 2019, and access to the other observatories being restored as a result. (June 2020)
In 2008, the TMT corporation selected two semi-finalists for further study, Mauna Kea and Cerro Amazones. In July 2009, Mauna Kea was selected. Once TMT selected Mauna Kea, the project began a regulatory and community process for approval. Mauna Kea is ranked as one of the best sites on Earth for telescope viewing and is home to 13 other telescopes built at the summit of the mountain, within the Mauna Kea Observatories grounds. Telescopes generate money for the big island, with millions of dollars in jobs and subsidies gained by the state. The TMT would be one of the most expensive telescopes ever created. The proposed construction of the TMT on Mauna Kea sparked protests and demonstrations across the state of Hawaii. Mauna Kea is the most sacred mountain in Hawaiian culture as well as conservation land held in trust by the state of Hawaii.
TMT will be sited on the northern plateau of Mauna Kea at a location known as the 13N site within “Area E,” which is part of the 525-acre Astronomy Precinct. It was identified in the 1983 Mauna Kea Science Reserve Complex Development Plan and in the subsequent 2000 Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan as the preferred location because it will have minimal impact on existing facilities, Wekiu bug habitat, archaeology / historic sites and view planes.
The site was selected in consultation with Kahu Ku Mauna, which in Hawaiian means Guardians of the Mountain. The nine-member native Hawaiian council advises the Mauna Kea Management Board, Office of Mauna Kea Management and the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s Chancellor on cultural matters. The specific site was selected because it is not visible from any of the places that people consider the most sacred on the mountain and because there are no archeological finds, ancient burials, or endangered native flora or fauna in the immediate area, and because it can be developed without a lot of grading.
Initial approval, permit and contested case hearing
In 2010 Governor Linda Lingle of the State of Hawaii signed off on an environmental study after 14 community meetings. The BLNR held hearings on December 2 and December 3, 2010, on the application for a permit.
On February 25, 2011, the board granted the permits after multiple public hearings. This approval had conditions, in particular, that a hearing about contesting the approval be heard. A contested case hearing was held in August 2011, which led to a judgment by the hearing officer for approval in November 2012. The telescope was given approval by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources in April 2013. This process was challenged in court with a lower court ruling in May 2014. The Intermediate Court of Appeals of the State of Hawaii declined to hear an appeal regarding the permit until the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources first issued a decision from the contested case hearing that could then be appealed to the court.
First blockade, construction halts, State Supreme Court invalidates permit
The dedication and ground-breaking ceremony was held, but interrupted by protesters on October 7, 2014. The project became the focal point of escalating political conflict, police arrests and continued litigation over the proper use of conservation lands. Native Hawaiian cultural practice and religious rights became central to the opposition, with concerns over the lack of meaningful dialogue during the permitting process. In late March 2015, demonstrators again halted the construction crews. On April 2, 2015, about 300 protesters gathered on Mauna Kea, some of them trying to block the access road to the summit; 23 arrests were made. Once the access road to the summit was cleared by the police, about 40 to 50 protesters began following the heavily laden and slow-moving construction trucks to the summit construction site.
On April 7, 2015, the construction was halted for one week at the request of Hawaii state governor David Ige, after the protest on Mauna Kea continued. Project manager Gary Sanders stated that TMT agreed to the one-week stop for continued dialogue; Kealoha Pisciotta, president of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, one of the organizations that have challenged the TMT in court, viewed the development as positive but said opposition to the project would continue. On April 8, 2015, Governor Ige announced that the project was being temporarily postponed until at least April 20, 2015. Construction was set to begin again on June 24, though hundreds of protesters gathered on that day, blocking access to the construction site for the TMT. Some protesters camped on the access road to the site, while others rolled large rocks onto the road. The actions resulted in 11 arrests.
The TMT company chairman stated: "T.M.T. will follow the process set forth by the state." A revised permit was approved on September 28, 2017, by the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources.
On December 2, 2015, the Hawaii State Supreme Court ruled the 2011 permit from the State of Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) was invalid ruling that due process was not followed when the Board approved the permit before the contested case hearing. The high court stated: "BLNR put the cart before the horse when it approved the permit before the contested case hearing," and "Once the permit was granted, Appellants were denied the most basic element of procedural due process – an opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner. Our Constitution demands more".
BLNR hearings, Court validates revised permit
In March 2017, the BLNR hearing officer, retired judge Riki May Amano, finished six months of hearings in Hilo, Hawaii, taking 44 days of testimony from 71 witnesses. On July 26, 2017, Amano filed her recommendation that the Land Board grant the construction permit. On September 28, 2017, the BLNR, acting on Amano's report, approved, by a vote of 5-2, a Conservation District Use Permit (CDUP) for the TMT. Numerous conditions, including the removal of three existing telescopes and an assertion that the TMT is to be the last telescope on the mountain, were attached to the permit.
On October 30, 2018, the Supreme Court of Hawaii ruled 4-1, that the revised permit was acceptable, allowing construction to proceed. On July 10, 2019, Hawaii Gov. David Ige and the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory jointly announced that construction would begin the week of July 15, 2019.
Renewed blockade shuts down all observatories
On July 15, 2019, renewed protests blocked the access road, again preventing construction from commencing. On July 17, 38 protestors were arrested, all of whom were kupuna (elders) as the blockage of the access road continued. The blockade lasted 4 weeks and shut down all 12 observatories on Mauna Kea, the longest shut down in the 50 year history of the observatories. The full shut down ended when state officials brokered a deal that included building a new road around the campsite of the demonstrations and providing a complete list of vehicles accessing the road to show they are not associated with the TMT. The protests have become the latest fight for indigenous rights and become a field-defining moment for astronomy. While there is both Native Hawaiian and non native Hawaiian support for the TMT, a substantial percentage of native Hawaiians oppose the construction and see the proposal itself as a continued disregard to their basic rights. The 50 years of protests against the use of Mauna Kea has drawn into question the ethics of conducting research with telescopes on the mountain. The controversy is about more than the construction and is about generations of conflict between Native Hawaiians, the U.S. Government and private interests. The American Astronomical Society stated through their Press Officer, Rick Fienberg; "The Hawaiian people have numerous legitimate grievances concerning the way they’ve been treated over the centuries. These grievances have simmered for many years, and when astronomers announced their intention to build a new giant telescope on Maunakea, things boiled over". On July 18, 2019, an online petition titled "Impeach Governor David Ige" was posted to Change.org. The petition has gathered over 25,000 signatures. The governor and others in his administration received death threats over the construction of the telescope.
On December 19, 2019, Hawaii Governor David Ige announced that the state would reduce its law enforcement personnel on Mauna Kea. At the same time, the TMT project stated it was not prepared to start construction anytime soon.
Early in 2020, TMT and the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) jointly presented their science and technical readiness to the U.S. National Academies Astro2020 panel. Chile is the site for GMT in the south and Mauna Kea is being considered as the primary site for TMT in the north. The panel will produce a series of recommendations for implementing a strategy and vision for the coming decade of U.S. Astronomy & Astrophysics frontier research and prioritize projects for future funding.
In July of 2020, TMT confirmed it won’t resume construction on TMT until 2021, at the earliest. TMT continues to assess a number of factors impacting its timeline and schedule. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in TMT’s partnership working from home around the world and it continues to present a public health threat as well as travel and logistical challenges. The project is currently focused on doing the work it can safely do in its partner countries.
On August 13, 2020, House Speaker Scott Saiki announced that the National Science Foundation (NSF) has initiated an informal outreach process to engage stakeholders interested in the Thirty Meter Telescope project. After listening to and considering the stakeholders’ viewpoints, NSF will decide whether to initiate a formal federal environmental review process for TMT.
TMT launched The Hawaii Island New Knowledge (THINK) Fund in 2014 to better prepare Hawaii Island students to master STEM and to become the workforce for higher paying science and technology jobs in Hawaii’s 21st century economy. TMT makes an annual contribution of $1 million to the Fund, which is administered by the Hawaii Community Foundation and Pauahi Foundation.
To date, TMT has funded $5,536,964.15 (THINK Fund at HCF $4,254,232.94 and THINK Fund at Pauahi Foundation $1,282,731.21) for Hawai‘i Island students, their families and teachers. Since 2015, THINK Fund at HCF has benefitted more than 20,000 students and 97 schools and nonprofit organizations through support of STEM education on Hawaii Island.
TMT has also initiated a Workforce Pipeline Program, working with the State Department of Education, University of Hawaii Hilo, Hawaii Community College, Hawaii County government, and nonprofit organizations to strengthen STEM skills infrastructure at UH Hilo, HCC and K-12 education organizations serving low income and first-generation college attending populations.
TMT is a cornerstone supporter of the Akamai Workforce Initiative, which provides college students with summer internships at observatories and other high-tech companies in Hawaii. The goal of the program is to advance Hawaii college students in STEM and increase underrepresented groups.
Since launching in 2003, more than 350 college students have participated in the Akamai program and at least 150 alumni are now working in science and technology jobs, with nearly two-thirds of them working in Hawaii and contributing to the local STEM workforce. Akamai accepts college students from Hawaii (80% graduated from a Hawaii high school or were born in Hawaii), and a key objective is to increase the participation of underrepresented and underserved populations in STEM. So far, the Akamai Workforce Initiative alumni demographics include 36% women, 25% Native Hawaiian, and 47% underrepresented minorities.
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