Thirty Meter Telescope

Astronomy's next generation observatory.

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Thirty Meter Telescope - An International Collaboration


From an overview article for "Inquiries of Heaven" (Issue No. 8 ) - the daily newspaper for the IAU 28th General Assembly in Beijing, China:

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) represents the next generation of ground-based astronomical observatories. Driven by frontier science themes, TMT offers 10 times the light-gathering power of the largest existing ground-based optical/near-IR facilities and will produce images 10 times more detailed than the Hubble Space Telescope. With this tremendous increase in power, TMT will deliver as yet unforeseen, groundbreaking discoveries about the Universe. In short, TMT will herald a new generation of telescopes and will serve its partner communities as a flagship research facility.

TMT is an international partnership involving the USA, Canada, Japan, China, and India. It represents a unique combination of technical, industrial, and scientific collaboration that benefits all partners. Sited on Mauna Kea in Hawaii near existing, complementary facilities, TMT will unite the Pacific Rim astronomical community about its vantage point, and will exclusively provide extremely-large telescope access to the northern sky.

The large aperture size and field of view of TMT, combined with its powerful adaptive optics systems and versatile science instruments, will provide unique gains in imaging at the diffraction limit, precision astrometry, high-contrast imaging and spectroscopy from the ultraviolet through the mid-infrared.

The TMT design has been under development since 2003 and is now technically mature. TMT is ready to enter the construction phase in April 2014, with first light in December 2021.

History and Partners

The University of California (UC) and Caltech founded the TMT Observatory Corporation. The Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astrono- my (ACURA) joined immediately as a partner. In the following years, other partners joined: National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC), and the Department of Science and Technology of India (DSTI).

Together, approximately 450 million USD have been pledged, including 250 million USD from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and 100 million USD from Caltech and UC. Recently, India committed more than 100 million USD to TMT, as an- nounced by Indian Minister of External Affairs Shri S. M. Krishna and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in June 2012.


China is a critical partner in TMT, providing high-technology contributions, and development of a number of vital components occurring within China. Participating in TMT will also increase Chinese technology and management experience in extremely large astronomy projects, and provide Chinese astronomers with access to the world’s largest telescope and participation in cutting-edge scientific discoveries for decades to come.

Five institutes within the Chinese Academy of Sciences are playing a leading role.

1. NAOC (National Astronomical Observatories of China) is the leading institute of the TMT-China Consortium and the China Representative in the TMT International Collaboration including:

  • Identifying TMT-China science goals and building up TMT-China science teams for Chinese astronomical communities.
  • Identifying and establishing TMT-China technical research and development teams among relevant CAS institutes and universities, as well as forming the coalition with relevant industrial enterprises.
  • Hosting the TMT-China project office, which manages internal and international scientific, technical and cooperative activities.

2. Responsibilities of NIAOT (Nanjing Institute of Astronomical Optics & Technology) include:

  • Developing the processes and technologies for polishing and fabricating TMT segmented primary mirrors.
  • Participating in the design development, possible fabricating and assembling of TMT “First Light” science instrument WFOS/MOBIE.

3. CIOMP (Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics and Physics) will design and fabricate the Giant Steering Science Mirror (GSSM), including:

  • Updating the design of the Cell and Positioner Assembly.
  • Polishing and fabricating the largest flat telescope mirror – 3.5 m×2.5m.
  • Assembling and delivering the GSSM system, which allows for rapid beam-switching from instrument to instrument.

4. IOE (Institute of Optics and Electronics) will design and fabricate the Laser Guide Star Facility (LGSF) including:

  • Updating the design of the LGSF.
  • Fabricating the Beam Transfer Optics.
  • Fabricating the Laser Launch Telescope system.
  • Assembling and delivering the LGSF together with TIPC lasers.

5. TIPC (Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry) is responsible for:

  • Engineering and testing the prototype of the solid-state high power sodium pulsed laser.
  • Delivering 6-9 lasers for the TMT Adaptive Optics System.
  • Potential provider of TMT’s instrumentation cryogenic system.

Following the IAU meeting, the TMT international Science Advisory Committee will meet in Beijing and engage in discussions with the Chinese astronomy community.