Issue 4 • September, 2006
Thirty Meter Telescope
Project Manager’s Corner: Big Science Sharing Lessons

Outside the window I can see golden orange leaves, evergreens, a dusting of snow on the mountains of Aspen, and blue skies with puffy clouds. One of nature's breathtaking landscapes surrounds the Aspen Institute of Physics. I am here, reflecting, just as an internal TMT review is coming to an end, awaiting the arrival of leaders and oversight officials of other major scientific projects for several days of sharing lessons and techniques in the management of big science projects.

The large scale of the TMT project is a high-water mark for ground-based astronomy. Roughly comparable to the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) project in radio astronomy, TMT will require a level of planning, design management, scheduling, resource management and performance measurement not common in ground-based astronomy projects.

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Science Nugget—The Fingerprints of First Light

When the idea that the Universe came into existence as an extremely hot and dense fireball was first forwarded, it was not met with wide acclaim. The name by which this theory came to be known, the hot "Big Bang", was originally used to derisively dismiss the concept. But, in the last three decades, predictions of the Big Bang model have been tested on many different fronts and the theory has a perfect record in confrontations with observations.

One prediction of the Big Bang is that in the early expansion of the Universe there was a brief period, specifically between one second and a few minutes after the beginning, when conditions were right for the formation of protons, neutrons and the nucleosynthesis of the chemical elements. However, the Universe rapidly expanded through this phase and the only elements that were produced were isotopes of hydrogen and helium, along with trace amounts of lithium and beryllium. As the Universe further expanded, it cooled and entered the "Dark Ages."

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Technology Nugget—Mirror Segment Manufacturing

Polishing the primary mirror segments to the desired shape is the most expensive single part of the construction of the TMT. This is because the polishing process is difficult and we need about 700 square meters of mirror surface, spread out over 738 segments. Why is this so hard?

The peculiar surface shape of the segments is probably the key issue here, but the mere act of polishing glass to any shape is pretty amazing. To make our mirrors reflect light to the needed accuracy, the mirrors need to be incredibly smooth. For good reflectance, we need the optical surface to be smooth to better than ~ 100 atoms in thickness, else the light will be scattered objectionably. We don’t know how to polish most materials to this level of smoothness, but glass is one of the few materials that can be polished to such a precise level, if we are clever enough.

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Partner News—Keck Science 2006

The W.M. Keck Observatory, with its twin 10-meter segmented mirror telescopes and a laser-based adaptive optics (AO) system, is a crucial technology pathfinder for the Thirty Meter Telescope. Two of the TMT partners, Caltech and the University of California, are also the managing partners of the Keck Observatory. Because of these close connections, we are including news from the Keck Observatory in this Newscast.

The annual Keck Observatory Science Meeting was held September 15, 2006, at the Beckman Center in Irvine, CA. There were more than 120 participants, 25 talks and 35 poster presentations. Continuing a trend from 2005, results based on the laser guide star AO system on Keck 2 had a very high profile at the meeting. The unprecedented breadth of science presented ranged from discoveries of binary asteroids in the Solar System to the results of searches for the first quasars at redshifts greater than 7 (none yet). The first science results from OSIRIS, the integral-field spectrometer that works behind the adaptive optics system, show the tremendous potential for this capability at Keck and eventually TMT.

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Industry News—M3 Delivers Design Concepts for TMT in Chile and Other Sites

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is the largest telescope enclosure project yet for M3, a company located in a major hub of international astronomical research, Tucson, Arizona.

M3 is an architecture, engineering, design and construction management firm that specializes in observatories and their support facilities. M3 provides an advantage for projects like TMT that require thorough study and design by both architects and engineers.

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