On Tuesday we looked at the Giant Magellan Telescope, which looked out at the universe with an array of seven mirrors. Just outside Pasadena, California, another next-generation telescope is going for quality over quantity.
Named after the size of its segmented primary meter, the Thirty Meter Telescope has been in development since the 90s. Modeled after the Keck Observatory in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, the TMT represents the vanguard of telescope design in every aspect. Beginning with the telescope’s primary mirror, which is made of 492 individual 1.45 meter hexagonal segments, the TMT will have nine times the collecting area of any telescope now in service.
Those 492 mirror segments will be guided by a computer control, allowing them to act as a unified surface. Since mirrors just weren’t cool enough, the TMT is also equipped with six lasers, which can be used to create six luminous spots in a layer of sodium atoms in the upper atmosphere. These “artificial stars” create a control group for atmospheric turbulence, which can blur starlight as it falls to Earth.
The projected cost for the TMT is 1.2 billion dollars, much of which has been raised already. To raise further funds to complete the project, a global partnership including astronomers from the US, China, India, and Japan has been assembled. Although fundraising is still incomplete, construction of the telescope is set to begin sometime in 2013 with “first science” being undertaken in 2018.
Given that it’s been in development for over a decade, one might expect that the TMT’s development hasn’t been entirely without controversy. In 2011 the Hawai’i Board of Land and Natural Resources conditionally approved Mauna Kea as the site for the TMT’s construction. This has been met with growing concerns about the development of the site, due to the possibility that it could disrupt Mauna Kea’s glacial environment, and that ongoing development could permanently scar a sacred site to the Native Hawaiian culture.
It’s unclear whether the citizen’s concerns will block the construction of the TMT; however, aside from the enormous advances that the telescope may one day provide, it also stands as opportunity for both science and the citizens’ concerns to be harmoniously resolved.
Watch a Video about the TMT:
Read About More Next Gen Telescopes:
The Giant Magellan Telescope
Images and Video Courtesy of TMT.org and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation