The TMT International Observatory LLC (TIO), a non-profit organization, was established in May 2014 to carry out the construction and operation of the TMT Project. The Members of TIO are Caltech, UC, the National Institutes of Natural Sciences of Japan, the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Department of Science and Technology of India, and the National Research Council (Canada); the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) is a TIO Associate. Major funding has been provided by the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation. This project is a remarkable demonstration of international collaboration and will transform the way we think about the universe and our place in it.
It began with a dream: To build a revolutionary 30-meter telescope to study the beginnings of the universe in the most optimal place in our Northern Hemisphere. After an extensive site testing campaign, Maunakea in Hawaii emerged as the preferred site. Located above approximately 40 percent of Earth’s atmosphere, Maunakea has a climate that is particularly stable, dry, and cold; all of which are important characteristics for capturing the sharpest images and producing the best science. In addition, the atmosphere over Maunakea offers exceptional conditions for astronomical measurements with adaptive optics, which will be equipped on TMT.
Maunakea is also of cultural, historical and environmental significance to many Native Hawaiians and others in Hawaii. Located 500 feet below the summit, TMT’s site was chosen because of its lack of archaeological, cultural or biological impact. It was also selected in response to concerns from Native Hawaiians that there be no more development on the summit of Maunakea and its puu (peaks), as these cultural areas need to be protected. TMT is already minimizing its impact on this special place. Environmental considerations include use of a special reflective aluminum-like coating to reduce the visibility of the structure as well as a commitment to leave zero waste.
Community outreach and engagement are part of the core mission of TMT. Past community outreach efforts have included pandemic relief and a focus on education. For example, TMT launched The Hawaii Island New Knowledge (THINK) Fund in 2014 to better prepare Hawaii Island students for careers in STEM. TMT also initiated a Workforce Pipeline Program, funding summer internships, STEM camps, Robotics, community events and other programs to help Hawaii Island students achieve success at becoming lifelong learners. Future efforts will continue to build on the most successful programs of the past and evolve with the changing educational, social and economic environment on Hawaii Island.
The journey to build the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii has been challenging at times. While the project has meticulously followed the detailed planning and permitting process laid out by the State of Hawaii, TMT’s renewed focus is an effort to connect more meaningfully with the Hawaii community.