World's largest telescope to be built in Hawaii

Jul 22, 2009 By AUDREY McAVOY , Associated Press Writer
This artists rendering made available by the TMT Observatory Corporation shows the proposed Thirty Meter Observatory. A consortium of U.S. and Canadian universities on Tuesday, July 21, 2009 announced it has decided to build the world's largest telescope in Hawaii. Mauna Kea volcano was picked by Thirty Meter Telescope Observatory Corp. The other finalist candidate site was Chile's Cerro Armazones mountain. (AP Photo/TMT Observatory Corporation)

(AP) -- Hawaii was chosen Tuesday as the site for the world's biggest telescope, a device so powerful that it will allow scientists to see some 13 billion light years away and get a glimpse into the early years of the universe.

The telescope's mirror - stretching almost 100 feet in diameter, or nearly the length of a Boeing 737's wingspan - will be so large that it should be able to gather light that will have spent 13 billion years traveling to earth. This means astronomers looking into the will be able to see images of the first and forming - some 400 million years after the Big Bang.

"It will sort of give us the history of the ," Thirty Meter Telescope Observatory Corp. spokesman Charles Blue said.

The telescope, expected to be completed by 2018, will be located atop a dormant volcano that is popular with astronomers because its summit sits well above the clouds at 13,796 feet, offering a clear view of the sky above for 300 days a year.

Hawaii's isolated position in the middle of the Pacific Ocean also means the area is relatively free of . Few cities on the Big Island mean there aren't a lot of man-made lights around to disrupt observations.

The other finalist candidate site for the Thirty Meter Telescope was Chile's Cerro Armazones mountain.

Richard Ellis, astronomy professor the California Institute of Technology and a Thirty Meter Telescope board member, told reporters in a conference call that Mauna Kea is at a higher elevation, its air is drier and its average temperature fluctuates less during the course of the day - all helpful factors for those using the new telescope.

The telescope will be built by the University of California, the California Institute of Technology and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy.

The current world's largest telescopes also are located atop Mauna Kea, but the size of their diameters are about three times smaller than the Thirty Meter Telescope. Current telescopes also don't routinely offer views of hundreds of planets orbiting around other stars and stars that are near the sun like the new telescope will.

But it may not hold the world's largest title for long.

A partnership of European countries plans to build the European Extremely Large Telescope, which would have an 138-foot mirror. The group is considering sites in Argentina, Chile, Morocco and Spain. It plans to decide on a location next year and be able to host its first observation in 2018.

Another group of universities plans to finish the Giant Magellan Telescope, also around 2018, with an 80-foot mirror in Las Campanas, Chile.

Rolf Kudritzki, the director of Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii, said Hawaii's northern hemisphere location will help the Thirty Meter Telescope complement other large telescopes planned for Chile in the southern hemisphere.

"I think all of the astronomers in the world can be happy because in principle now the two largest telescopes will be able to cover the whole sky. And for research that's an important decision," he said.

It will also be a special boon to Hawaii astronomers, who will be allotted a share of the TMT's observation time. Kudritzki said his colleagues held an impromptu celebratory party Tuesday.

But the decision invited protests from some Native Hawaiian and environmental groups.

Native Hawaiian tradition holds that high altitudes are sacred and are a gateway to heaven. In the past, only high chiefs and priests were allowed at Mauna Kea's summit. The mountain is home to one confirmed burial site and perhaps four more, and environmentalists oppose the telescope on the grounds it would hurt some endangered species.

"This the kind of legacy they want to leave? They just keep building on our mountain," said Kealoha Pisciotta, president of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, a group with family and religious ties to the mountain.

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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User comments : 17

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omatumr
2.1 / 5 (9) Jul 22, 2009
CONGRATULATIONS

That will another good reason to visit beautiful Hawaii.

I recommend that astronomers spend more time and effort on the object about 8.3168708 light minutes away from Earth, rather than 13 billion light years.

We are told that the fundamental laws of physics fail over that time span, although measurements here and elsewhere on double beta-decay have confirmed that these fundamental laws survive on a time scale of up to 10^24 years.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Ethelred
4.1 / 5 (7) Jul 22, 2009
Oliver:

It doesn't take giant scopes to look at the Sun. On top of which it doesn't matter how much anyone studies the Sun we aren't going to find evidence to support your idea that it has a neutron star at the core.

We are told that the fundamental laws of physics fail over that time span,


Hey, somehow I didn't get that news.

Now if want to go back a bit farther then yes, physics reaches a limit. But that limit is fractions of a second after the Big Bang or whatever there was at the start of the Universe. A telescope isn't going to see all the way back to the source of the background radiation as that has too low a temperature to penetrate the atmosphere even at that altitude.

That place has a LOT of scopes on it already. How many more can it fit. Its a fairly small area at the top of Mauna Kea.

http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/mko/telescope_table.htm" title="http://http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/mko/telescope_table.htm" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">http://www.ifa.ha...able.htm

http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/mko/

Ethelred
yyz
3.8 / 5 (4) Jul 22, 2009
The current record holders are the twin Keck scopes on Mauna Kea but on July 24, they will be superseded by the 10.4m GTC on La Palma in the Canary Islands( http://www.iac.es...?lang=en ). Echoing Ethelred, Mauna Kea is getting awfully crowded (although it probably has the best set of atmospheric conditions available, especially for the IR observations the TMT will be used for). Can't wait for the TMT and the Giant Magellan Telescope to see 'first light'.
PinkElephant
3 / 5 (3) Jul 22, 2009
Why don't people just cut to the chase and start building 300-meter 'scopes instead of these puny little 30-meter ones...

:-) j/k

On a more serious note, there must come a time when up-sizing individual mirrors won't be practical any more. Then we'll just have to start building long-baseline telescope arrays, instead. If we can do it for radio wavelengths, why not do the same for optical?
paulthebassguy
1.5 / 5 (2) Jul 23, 2009
What about distortions from the atmosphere? Does anyone know if/how these are going to be dealt with?
Ethelred
4 / 5 (5) Jul 23, 2009
Then we'll just have to start building long-baseline telescope arrays, instead. If we can do it for radio wavelengths, why not do the same for optical?


The Keck pair is an optical interferometer. I haven't noticed much come out of the research. Maybe I just need to look harder.

http://keckobserv...ervatory

In 2004, Keck Observatory deployed the first laser guide star adaptive optics system on a large telescope. The laser guide star AO now routinely produces images with greater crispness and detail than those resulting from the Hubble Space Telescope


Newer stuff still being developed:

http://keckobserv...port.pdf

Interferometry:

http://keckobserv..._FFP.pdf

Which looks to be more limited than adaptive optics for general imaging. I like neat pictures but interferometry doesn't produce those. Not yet anyway. It looks to me like you need BOTH scope Adaptive Optics working at the same time PLUS everything else has to work long enough to get some information that you could not otherwise get. Which is somewhat different from those neat images the Hubble makes.

Ethelred
PinkElephant
3.8 / 5 (4) Jul 23, 2009
@paulthebassguy, look up "adaptive optics" (as Ethelred also mentioned), and you'll find your answer.

@Ethelred, optical interferometry so far has been used primarily to "cancel out" glare from a bright source (such as a star), which allows to pick up nearby faint sources (such as orbiting planets.) That's a perfectly valid application, but as you say it doesn't produce "neat pictures".

However, there's another angle to this. The reason people want to have ever-larger mirrors, is because larger mirrors literally offer more collecting area (and so can "gather" more photons.) For imaging distant or faint sources, large collecting area is a must. However, there are two ways to get a large collecting area: build larger monolithic mirrors, or build lots of smaller ones that collectively add up to a lot of area.

The trick with smaller (separate) telescopes, is that you must precisely synchronize them, and precisely correlate the photons they gather, so that in effect they all act as pieces of a single larger mirror. The tolerances required are very exacting, but probably no more so than those needed for LIGO. In other words, this should be achievable, even if difficult...
otto1923
2.2 / 5 (6) Jul 23, 2009
ANOTHER RELIGION, thinks they own something they don't, thinks their beliefs should stand in the way of knowledge. The search for Truth is sacred.
Ethelred
4.7 / 5 (3) Jul 24, 2009
However, there's another angle to this. The reason people want to have ever-larger mirrors, is because larger mirrors literally offer more collecting area (and so can "gather" more photons.)


That is the reason the Keck was made out of separate hexagonal sections in the first place. The reason for interferometry with separated mirrors is to get higher resolution as the limit of resolution in a vacuum is the diameter of the lens and the lens can be discontinuous as in the Keck pair or the radio arrays. However without adaptive optics or putting the mirrors in space interferometry was a waste a of time since the atmospheric turbulence was the main limit to resolution.

Whats with this out7x individual running around giving ones to hordes of rational posts? Does anyone know what his problem is?

OK the one he gave to otto doesn't count as strange. I know what Otto was talking about but clarity is not his strong suit.

Ethelred
Mastoras
1 / 5 (1) Jul 24, 2009
In decent families, one of the most dominant opinions these days is that every people has the right to live in its country in the way they choose --limited only in certain situations, such as violations of democracy, unjustified violence against other people, etc. This right is even recognized by the United Nations. So...., describing some plans as "the way of knowledge" might be evidence of noble intentions and touching. But still, who has decided that this is indeed the "way of knowledge"? It is unavoidable and necessary to ask these questions, because we are also told that "nothing should stand in the way of truth" --scary, isn't it?
-.
PinkElephant
3 / 5 (2) Jul 24, 2009
The reason for interferometry with separated mirrors is to get higher resolution as the limit of resolution in a vacuum is the diameter of the lens and the lens can be discontinuous as in the Keck pair or the radio arrays.


That's part of the reason for large mirrors, but collecting area is the other part. You need super-high angular resolution if you want to do ultra-deep scans of extremely distant targets. But if you're interested in closer objects that are extremely faint, angular resolution doesn't matter as much as collecting area.

By the way, I was not aware of interferometry aiding with angular resolution. AFAIK, the main point of interferometry is to set up destructive interference so as to subtract the highly-correlated background noise: bringing out fainter objects that might otherwise have been lost in the glare. The individual dishes/mirrors in telescope arrays are shaped as normal parabolic surfaces, not as distinctly curved parts of a larger parabolic surface (as is the case with Keck's mirror facets.)

Oh, and Ethelred: why are you so obsessed with the post ratings? Well-adjusted people shouldn't try to seek validation in the opinions of others...
otto1923
1 / 5 (1) Jul 24, 2009
I know what the hell I'm talking about. :-)
otto1923
4 / 5 (1) Jul 24, 2009
No, really, just to klar-ify:
Native Hawaiian tradition holds that high altitudes are sacred and are a gateway to heaven.
I would hate to see this or any project held up over irrational beliefs. Am I the only one who feels this way? I think not. Doesn't the bible say that to look upon the face of god means death- will some Utahn decide that big scopes might fry us all??
Ethelred
4.5 / 5 (2) Jul 25, 2009
. AFAIK, the main point of interferometry is to set up destructive interference so as to subtract the highly-correlated background noise:


I wasn't aware of that aspect. Radio interferometry has always been about increased resolution. Maximum resolution is limited by the diameter of the receiver versus the wavelength. It doesn't matter if its a radio dish or a 50mm lens on a Canon. The limit is due to diffraction.

Oh, and Ethelred: why are you so obsessed with the post ratings? Well-adjusted people shouldn't try to seek validation in the opinions of others...


Who said I was well adjusted? Would I argue with Right Wing Wackjobs and Creationist nutcases if I was well adjusted? I am insulted that anyone would think I was well adjusted.

Mostly I just want to know what the person's problem is. However in some cases its pretty clear that people give low ratings to posts to cause them to be filtered out. Take out the filters and I might care less. Then again the well adjusted mind is not posting here. Look at all the retired scientists posting bizarre ideas that simply don't fit reality or at best are on the fringe.

Ethelred



Ethelred
4.5 / 5 (2) Jul 25, 2009
Oh, and Ethelred: why are you so obsessed with the post ratings? Well-adjusted people shouldn't try to seek validation in the opinions of others...


I know you think you do anyway.

q[I would hate to see this or any project held up over irrational beliefs. Am I the only one who feels this way?

If there are enough irrational people then it begins to make sense, in some cases, to find another place to look. This is not one of them.

TO give an example it was extremely rational, from one point of view, to build a dam in the canyon north of Yosemite. From my irrational point of view it was a very short sighted thing to do. Can't remember the name of the valley.

The dams on the Colorado River are also a case of the needs of the many outweighing the desires of the few. Now if some bloody money hungry bastard decides to dam the Grand Canyon itself it is so not going to happen. However the Glenn Canyon dam has harmed the Grand Canyon and there have been experiments in deliberately releasing flood levels of water from the dam to try to clean up the Grand Canyon without causing disasters below the canyon.

Ethelred
RealScience
not rated yet Jul 25, 2009
Ethelred - the valley's name was something like was Hetch Hetchy.
Muir said that it was even more beautiful than Yosemite.
ironman
not rated yet Sep 19, 2009
OWL was supposed to be a 60 to 140 m telescope, then 100 m, now it is E-ELT at 42 m

is there an ultimately physics limited max sized telescope beyond which there is no point, ( ie aside from money and current technology limits)