TMT Update from Christophe Dumas, TMT Observatory Scientist
It’s been too long since our last E-newsletter, and there is quite a lot of TMT news to report in spite of our extended delay with the start of on-site construction.
As with the rest of the world, we’re closely monitoring the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) situation and our thoughts are with those affected by the virus. Using guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we are taking measures to ensure the health and safety of our employees, collaborators and suppliers. For example, all TMT staff have been instructed to avoid all non-essential travels, and telecommuting options have been made available for employees who have been encouraged not to come to work due to potential exposure or are caring for a sick family member. We will continue to monitor the situation as it develops.
Reaching out to the TMT science community
The first piece of TMT news is that we are planning to hold in a near future a series of webinars to directly address the current situation with TMT. Virtual meetings will be organized at different times to enable participation across all time zones covered by the TIO partnership. We will review our current efforts in Hawaii and take the opportunity to update you on TMT’s alternate site in La Palma, Canary Islands. There will be ample time for discussion with the TMT project staff, science community representatives and TMT supporters in Hawaii and La Palma. More details regarding the webinar series to come very soon – please, stay tuned!
In order to best suit the content of these webinars to the need of the TMT science community, and understand what areas need to be particularly addressed, we would like to encourage all of you working in the astronomy domain to fill out a quick survey that you will receive in a separate email (it will take only five minutes to complete). Please, answer this survey within a 10-day period after receiving the email request.
Situation in Hawaii
Although we are ready to start construction of the TMT, we remain concerned about deep societal issues among the community in Hawaii, as well as the feasibility of a safe and peaceful access to Maunakea. As you know, we have tried to gain access to our site four times over the last five years without success, including our last attempt in July 2019. That said, many individuals and Hawaii government officials are engaged in seeking a solution to the issue.
Currently, there is an effort by the Hawaii State Legislature to pass a resolution requesting Governor David Ige to convene a Blue Ribbon Commission to formulate a reconciliation process to foster open dialogues and address a wide range of issues of past, present, and future importance for native Hawaiians, the state of Hawaii, and the United States of America at large. There is also a separate ongoing attempt beginning to bring together representatives of the Hawaiian community who have different views on the TMT issue with TMT representatives. This effort follows ho'oponopono, which is a Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness, and TMT is engaged in the process.
Some needed clarification
You may have read that the Japanese government recently reduced its budget allocation for the TMT project for Fiscal Year 2020 due to the current situation in Hawaii. This should not significantly impact the overall schedule because Japan has steadily developed its contributions thus far. The Japanese government is still strongly committed to the TMT project in Hawaii, and is fully aligned with TIO's position that Hawaii remains the preferred site for the TMT.
Moving forward with TMT construction
TMT will no doubt revolutionize astronomy for many decades and such a powerful telescope requires the most optimal place for its construction. Maunakea and its Northern Hemisphere location provide exquisite conditions for astronomical observations. TMT has spent over a decade diligently meeting all requirements to build on Maunakea and minimize impacts on the mountain, and the project is committed to moving forward in Hawaii in a manner that honors and supports our scientific goals, environmental stewardship and the traditions and culture of Hawaii. For more information about TMT in Hawaii, see: https://www.maunakeaandtmt.org.
However if access on Maunakea continues to prove impossible, TMT is committed to moving forward, and start construction on another excellent site in the Northern Hemisphere, which is the Observatory of Roque de Los Muchachos (ORM), on La Palma, in the Canary Islands of Spain. We have carried out an extensive environmental impact study for possibly building TMT in La Palma and recently obtained all required permits to start construction. La Palma provides superb conditions for adaptive optics-assisted observations, which are the core of TMT’s science programs. The ORM site also provides several other advantages, including a faster timeline to initiate construction and reach ‘first-light’ and lower project risks based on the existence of support infrastructure. More information on TMT sites can be found at: https://www.tmt.org/page/site.
Some other important news to share with you
The US-ELT Program (USELTP) presented last month the details of its program to a panel of experts for the 2020 Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics (Astro2020). The USELTP will provide 25 percent (or more) of observing time to the U.S. astronomical community on the Thirty Meter Telescope (Northern hemisphere) and Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT, Southern hemisphere) each. This program will enable scientists anywhere in the U.S. to create and lead projects taking advantage of the combined full-sky coverage, as well as diverse and complementary instrument capabilities of GMT and TMT, to address the most compelling and challenging research questions in astrophysics. The recommendations of the Astro2020 process are expected to be publicly available early next year. More information can be found in a recent New York Times article, as well as on the TMT webpage: https://www.tmt.org/page/uselt.
The 2019 edition of the TMT Science Forum was held in Xiamen, China, last November. The meeting was attended by more than 100 scientists across the TMT partnership and beyond to discuss science synergies in the era of the Thirty Meter Telescope. The Forum was preceded by a workshop to establish the main science cases for the High Resolution Optical Spectrograph (HROS), one of TMT’s first decade instruments. The HROS instrument concept is led by our partners in India, with strong collaboration and participation of TMT partners in China. More information on the 2019 TMT Science Forum and associated workshops can be found at: https://www.tmt.org/news/442.
The TMT project and TMT-Japan will be present at the SPIE Meeting on Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation in Yokohama, Japan, on June 14-19 2020. We hope to see you in Yokohama, and please come visit the TMT booth for the most up-to-date information about the project, and to meet TMT experts who are leading the design of all telescope and instrument systems. Of course, we are monitoring the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and advise all to follow the best practices in considering travel to this meeting.
Last but not least, please check our news section to read about TMT’s latest design progress and technical developments!
TMT Observatory Scientist and Head of Operations