Categorized | Sci-Tech

TMT Science Advisory Committee meeting on island

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

The Science Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations to the Thirty Meter Telescope board, is meeting for the first time on the Big Island this week.

In addition to a three-day slate of meetings, the agenda featured a site visit Monday – the first time some of the astronomers and scientists have seen the telescope’s proposed home atop Mauna Kea.

The committee includes representatives from China and India, partners in the world’s largest telescope. The two countries are on board to kick in construction funds for the $1.3 billion project.

China joined as an observer in 2009 and India in 2010. Both countries stepped up their participation and are now full partners in the project, which is slated to be complete in 2018.

Japan, which already operates the Subaru telescope on Mauna Kea, has been a partner since 2008.

G.C. Anupama, Indian Institute of Astrophysics professor, said she appreciated the opportunity to see Mauna Kea for herself during this visit to the Big Island.

“It has helped to visit the mountain. It was a great experience,” she said. “I’m all the more convinced it is the best place for this telescope.”

Shude Mao, professor of astrophysics at National Astronomical Observatories of China, said he was impressed during a visit to the Keck Observatory, which uses segment mirrors similar to the ones planned for TMT.

“The site looks beautiful,” he said. “TMT has inherited much from Keck. The size of Keck is amazing and TMT will be even more amazing.”

TMT’s segmented primary mirror – which really is 30 meters, or about 98 feet, in diameter – will have nine times the light-collecting area of the largest optical telescopes currently in use.

Sandra Dawson, TMT’s manager for Hawaii community relations, said the project is pleased to welcome astronomy colleagues from China and India.

“They are very enthusiastic about their role in TMT,” she said. “It’s very exciting to bring two countries that haven’t been involved in a project like this. We think it’s exciting for Hawaii, for astronomy and for the world.”

The committee meets quarterly and is charged with making scientific recommendations to the board.

“These are, in fact, the customers,” Dawson said. “We want to get the best science for the money.”

The committee continues its discussions through Thursday.

The TMT project has received approval from the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, but was the subject of a contested case hearing, which wrapped up in September.

Dawson said the contested case hearing officer has yet to give a final recommendation to the BLNR. There is no deadline for that report.

The non-profit TMT Observatory Corporation was founded in June 2003 by its partners: the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy, the University of California, and the California Institute of Technology.

TMT Science Advisory Committee participants:

Ray Carlsberg (Canada)
Masanori Iye (Japan)
Nobonaari Kashikawa (Japan)
Judy Cohen (Caltech)
Chuck Steidel (Caltech)
Mike Bolte (UC)
Tim Davidge (Canada)
Paul Hickson (Canada)
Masayuki Akiyama (Japan)
Tomonori Usuda (Japan)
Shude Mao (China)
G.C. Anupama (India)
Charlie Telesco (US)
George Angeli (TMT)
Brent Ellerbrock (TMT)
Suzanne Tremblay (Canada)
Matthias Schoeck (TMT)
Luc Simard (Canada)

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