Issue 3 • August, 2006
Thirty Meter Telescope

Focus on... TMT's Galaxy Hunter

Astronomy made the news this month, big time. Pluto in the news. And, oh, there is that TIME magazine cover. TIME magazine. The Big Time! A banner headline that announces “How The Stars Were Born.” And TMT’s own Richard Ellis stares out of page 46, hunting galaxies, and on page 51, pointing the way to his student, Dan Stark, in the Keck Observatory control room.

Across the globe, front pages cried out about the demotion of Pluto. Small children in classrooms far and wide were a bit shaken. The 9 planets that they had carefully learned, each with its size and distance and color and patterns and rings and moons, were now a broken family. A broken family. Confidence shaken. Most disturbing. The stuff of popular headlines and public attention. Jay Leno, Stephen Colbert and the other nightly pundits remark. The morphology of space, constant like the ark of astronomy’s covenant, is changed by a committee debating definitions.

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Project Manager's Corner: How Much Will TMT Cost?

We are working on the answer to this important question. Very hard. Price quotations arrive every day. New requirements documents and requests for quotes go out, as well, every day. Cost-estimating tally sheets, with narrative descriptions of the design and estimating method, are stacking up. A data base is filling. Some items are coming out higher than expected; others leave a bit of room within our expectations.

Later this year we will have laid out a detailed cost estimate, and outside experts will pore through it and render an opinion on what has been left out, or what’s been judged with too much optimism or—perhaps—too conservatively. We will refine some things and then we will have a basis for planning adjustments to what’s included in the TMT design, and how the project can be carried out within budget.

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Science Nugget—Imaging Stars in Nearby Galaxies with IRIS + NFIRAOS

August 31, 1885, was a day of great significance in the field of extragalactic astronomy. On that day, Ernst Hartwig of Dorpat Observatory reported the discovery of S Andromedae. While this was only the second variable star to be discovered in the constellation of Andromeda (and over 400 are known today), it was found within the great spiral nebula in Andromeda, also known as M31.

A number of other contemporary astronomers recorded observations, and a light curve was obtained. The extragalactic nature of S And (and M31) was not appreciated for another four decades. However, it is now known that S And was a supernova, and the work done in 1885 was the first recorded detection and characterization of an individual star in a large spiral galaxy other than the Milky Way.

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Technology Nugget—TMT Aerodynamic Studies: Simulating the Wind

Mountaintops are windy places. Nevertheless, they are the best places for observatories. The TMT project plans to build a huge structure, comparable to an oil rig, on the top of a mountain. We also need to align this structure to a precision of a few nanometers, and then keep it so.

Can we do it? Yes, we are convinced we can. Here is why.

For several years, we have been conducting computational fluid dynamic (CFD) simulations of the potential mountaintops and various enclosures considered for TMT. The earliest aerodynamics models reflected the precursor designs: CELT, GSMT, and VLOT. An extensive wind-measurement campaign was carried out with the Gemini South telescope, producing a large amount of pressure and velocity data, mostly from the 8-meter primary mirror. Two series of wind tunnel measurements were done to investigate the flow field in and around generic spherical enclosures. Since the TMT reference design was established in September 2004, its performance under various wind loads has been scrutinized extensively.

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Q&A with David Crampton

David Crampton is the instruments group leader for the Thirty Meter Telescope project, and the head of the instrumentation group at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory/Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics (HIA) in Victoria, Canada. In his capacity for TMT, David is leading the planning and management of the instrumentation activity, in close partnership with Brent Ellerbroek, who is playing a similar role for adaptive optics.

David has been the Principal Investigator or had major involvement in the production of several multi-object spectrographs and adaptive optic systems for the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) and the Gemini Observatory, and has been a member of the science teams for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) NIRCAM and NIRSPEC instruments. His scientific research focuses on the high-redshift universe, principally through studies of extremely high-redshift galaxies, quasars and gravitational lenses. A few decades ago, he was a co-discoverer of the first black hole in a galaxy outside our own, a discovery that helped establish the reality of black holes.

David spoke recently with Doug Isbell of NOAO public affairs about the state of the TMT instrumentation program, and its greatest challenges.

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Around the Community

The theme of the week at the Kid’s Klub in Pasadena, California, was the solar system, and on August 11, TMT Site Testing Scientist Tony Travoullion presented, "The Solar System: Past, Present and Future," to a very enthusiastic groups of three and four year-olds. Click images below to enlarge.

Industry News—Small Engineering Firm in NM Designs Key TMT systems

Flash back to May 25, 2005: it is not even one month since Eric Ponslet, long time Director of R&D for HYTEC Inc., a small engineering firm located in Los Alamos, NM, returned from a two-year sabbatical roaming the more remote areas of North America in a converted 1963 Greyhound coach, in search of rock, ice, and mountain-climbing challenges. Another type of challenge now awaits. Today, Eric is sitting in the conference room of the Center for Adaptive Optics at UC Santa Cruz, listening to a group of scientists and engineers describe their plan for the largest optical telescope ever built. TMT has just hired HYTEC to develop conceptual and preliminary designs for the primary mirror segment support mechanisms, and this is the kick-off meeting for that activity.

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TMT "In The News"

Recent articles mentioning TMT in the popular media:

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