June 24, 2019

13.10.09:A Hawaiian Mega-scope?

The green light was given earlier this year in mid-July as to the site selection for a telescope that if built, will be the largest in the world. The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) will be parked atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii, home to a collection of scopes, including the Keck, Subaru, and Gemini instruments. As its name suggests, this telescope will sport a reflecting 30 meter mirror comprised of 492 hexagonal segments and operate in the near infrared as well as visible light. Its to be seen whether this will move the environmental lobby to protest as construction on Mauna Kea did in 2002. A point often missed in these debates is that the telescopes themselves need pristine dark skies to operate; this assures that over-development in the form of Costcos and subdivisions won’t visit the slopes of Mauna Kea anytime soon. A follow-up contender for the TMT is Mt. Cerro Armazones in the Atacama Desert in Chile, also dubbed the “most eligible mountain without an observatory.” The seeing is also a bit better in the Atacama, but of course that would mean the exodus of more American science (and dollars) overseas. The European Union is also eying Armazones for a possible site for its two main contenders: the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) at 24.5 meters, and the European Extremely Large Telescope (EELT) at a whooping 42 meters. Its sobering to think that these mega scopes may be the final say of large aperture on Earth; at a proposed 2 billion dollars to build the TMT, it becomes more cost effective to carry on further “aperture wars” in space!