Telescope an astronomical prize


POSTED: Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The University of Hawaii's Manoa and Hilo campuses are celebrating Mauna Kea's selection over Cerro Armazones, Chile, for the world's most powerful telescope.

“;You can't imagine how excited we are,”; said Rolf-Peter Kudritzki, Institute for Astronomy director, minutes after the highly competitive site choice was announced yesterday. “;It rarely happens in my life, but I'm almost speechless.”;

The Thirty Meter Telescope, or TMT Project, will be the largest optical telescope ever built—reaching farther into space and seeing more clearly than existing telescopes by a factor of 10 to 100, according to the project.

Edward Stone, California Institute of Technology physics professor and vice chairman of the TMT board, said Mauna Kea was the choice because “;the atmospheric conditions, low average temperatures and very low humidity will open an exciting new discovery space. ...

“;Working in concert with the partners' existing facilities on Mauna Kea will further expand the opportunities for discoveries.”;

This is the International Year of Astronomy and 400th anniversary of the invention of the telescope, “;which was a milestone for mankind,”; Kudritzki noted.

“;Now it's another milestone for astronomy, the largest telescope ever in the history of astronomy with breathtaking science,”; he said.

The TMT began in 2004 led by Caltech and Associated Canadian Universities.

Although it was his goal when he became IFA director to bring big telescopes to Hawaii, Kudritzki said the TMT “;was a total team effort”; with enormous contributions by UH-Hilo, the Hawaii island community and individuals.

“;We're delighted,”; Rose Tseng, UH-Hilo senior vice president and chancellor, said after a Mauna Kea Management Board meeting yesterday.





        » Housed inside a 180-foot-tall dome. The primary mirror will have nine times the collecting area of the 10-meter Keck Telescopes, now the world's largest optical/infrared telescopes.

» More powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope, and capable of producing images 12 times sharper by using sophisticated adaptive optics systems.


“;I don't think they will build another huge telescope for many, many years,”; she said, citing the cost at an estimated $1.2 billion. “;I look at it as the future of Hawaii's children,”; presenting opportunities for research with the most advanced telescope.

But UH-Hilo, which has the Office of Mauna Kea Management, is trying to balance research with culture and natural resources to protect the mountain, Tseng emphasized.

Construction is scheduled to begin on the TMT in 2011, with completion in 2018. The 30-meter primary mirror will have nine times the collecting area of the 10-meter Keck Telescopes, now the world's largest optical/infrared telescopes.

“;It means Mauna Kea will remain as it is right now: the premier place for astronomy in the world,”; said IFA astronomer Brent Tully, called one of the fathers of modern observational cosmology.

“;The most exciting thing perhaps from my perspective will be work done on the emergence from the dark ages (after the big bang) when the very first stars and galaxies were being born.”;

IFA Associate Director Robert McLaren said the TMT will not be built on the summit, but on the northwest plateau, consistent with the Mauna Kea master plan.

The project is providing a $1 million-a-year grant to the Big Island throughout the telescope's lifetime to be handled by a community group for educational activities, he said. A work-force development initiative also is planned to promote training programs for young people to work for the telescope project in seven years, he said.


The telescope is run by the TMT Observatory Corp., which includes the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and ACURA, an organization of Canadian universities.

» Job creation: 140 permanent, 300 construction

» Time line: Target on-site construction by 2011, completed by 2018

» Funding: $300 million in pledges from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Caltech, University of California and Canadian universities

Source: TMT