Thirty Meter Telescope

Astronomy's next generation observatory.

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Why We Are Building It: New Science Case for the Thirty Meter Telescope Highlights Major Areas of Discovery

05.07.2015

A new document describing the transformational science the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) will enable has been released. TMT is a powerful, next-generation astronomical observatory that will begin scanning the skies in the 2020s.

As the key TMT document—known as the Detailed Science Case—explains, TMT will open up opportunities for revolutionary discoveries in essentially every field of astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology.

Enabled by a giant mirror and advanced adaptive optics system, TMT will see much fainter objects much more clearly than existing telescopes. With these capabilities, TMT's science agenda fills all of space and time, from nearby comets and asteroids, to exoplanets, to the most distant galaxies, and back to the very first sources of light in the Universe.

"There is virtually no cosmic stone that TMT will leave unturned," said Warren Skidmore, the editor in chief of the new Detailed Science Case and Telescope Research Scientist for TMT International Observatory. "We at TMT, our international partners, and the broader astronomical community are all eagerly looking forward to the scientific breakthroughs that TMT will help deliver."

Other areas of scientific opportunity for TMT highlighted by the new Detailed Science Case include: the characterization of dark matter and dark energy; testing of general relativity in high gravity environments; probing for possible variations of fundamental physical constants in the Universe; studying the early universe and the cosmic epoch of reionization; galaxy and supermassive black hole formation and evolution; the lives of stars and their manufacture of chemical elements; supernova properties; extreme star formation; planet formation; exoplanet characterization with a push down toward smaller, Earthlike planets; searching for bio-signatures in exoplanet atmospheres; and investigation of asteroids, comets, Kuiper Belt Objects and rocky moons in the Solar System.

More than 150 astronomers from within the TMT partnership and beyond offered input in compiling the new 2015 Detailed Science Case.

In preparing the document, members of TMT's International Science Development Teams composed sections describing some of the highest profile questions in their respective fields that TMT can help answer. Volunteers from across the globe provided vital assistance in the creation of the overall document.

The 2015 Detailed Science Case has been updated from its original 2007 version to reflect how its first featured suite of instruments and future upgrades will achieve TMT's envisioned science goals. In this manner, the science case will be used to define the scientific priorities of TMT during the period when evaluation of second-generation instruments begins. The document will also aid in defining the operational modes for the observatory as its science mission gets underway.

The 2015 Detailed Science Case for the Thirty Meter Telescope is available as an astro-ph preprint on the website arXiv, and also via the TMT website.