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Chinese join Mauna Kea telescope project


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POSTED: Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chinese astronomers have signed on to participate in the development of the world's largest telescope, which will be built atop a Hawaii volcano, a group said yesterday.

The group spearheading the project — the Thirty Meter Telescope — said the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has joined as an observer. It is the first step of a process expected to lead to the NAOC becoming a full partner and financial contributor.

“;We believe that the Thirty Meter Telescope will provide an otherwise unattainable opportunity for the Chinese astronomical community to make significant discoveries, perform cutting-edge science and advance technological development,”; Jun Yan, the NAOC's director, said in a statement.

A consortium of Canadian and California universities is heading the development of the telescope, to be built atop Mauna Kea on the Big Island. The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan is also participating.

The telescope's mirror will stretch almost 100 feet in diameter, or nearly the length of a Boeing 737's wingspan, when it is finished in 2018. It will be so powerful that astronomers will be able to use it to see images of the first stars and galaxies forming — some 400 million years after the big bang.

Native Hawaiian groups oppose the telescope, saying Mauna Kea's summit is sacred. Environmentalists say they are concerned the project will hurt endangered species.