2 Candidates Sites for a 30m Telescope

After completing a rigorous, detailed worldwide survey of candidate astronomical sites for the Thirty-Meter Telescope, the TMT Observatory Corporation board of directors is now considering two optional sites, one in each hemisphere. The first site is Cerro Armazones, which lies in Chile’s Atacama Desert, and the second site is Mauna Kea on Hawaii Island.

Astronomers will use the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) to analyze light that has been traveling in space for many years in order to improve our understanding of the era when the first stars and galaxies were formed.  According to its creators, the TMT Observatory will herald a new generation of ground based telescopes. A global satellite survey was conducted to ensure that the proposed TMT sites will provide the greatest advantages and will best suit the telescope’s capabilities. Following the survey, a small number of outstanding sites were chosen for further study using ground-based test equipment. In the latest part of the study, the scientists studied two sites in the northern hemisphere and three in the southern hemisphere, in what was the most comprehensive survey of its kind.

The TMT Project is currently entering its final stages of design. According to plan,  the observatory’s construction will begin in 2010 and the telescope will be utilized in early 2018. The project is a partnership between the University of California, the California Institute of Technology, and ACURA, an organization of Canadian universities. “We look forward to the discussions with the people of Hawaii and Chile regarding the opportunities to open a new era in astronomy in one of these two world capitals of astronomy,” says Professor Ray Carlberg, the Canadian Large Optical Telescope Project Director and a TMT board member. “Canadian scientists have partnered in the extensive site testing carried out by TMT and we are very pleased to see that it has led to two great options for TMT.”

The team has monitored various parameters in each candidate site over the last four years, including atmospheric turbulence, wind characteristics, temperature variations, and the amount of water vapor. Based upon the results, the TMT Project will now further evaluate the best site in each hemisphere. In addition to the “astronomical weather” at the sites, other considerations in the final selection include the environment, accessibility, operations costs, and complementarities with other nearby astronomy facilities.

The next step in the site analysis process is the preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS) that will thoroughly evaluate the aforementioned aspects regarding the possible site in Hawaii. A similar statement for Cerro Armazones has already been completed and has been submitted to the Chilean government for their review.

Henry Yang, TMT Board Chair and Chancellor of UC Santa Barbara, said: “The selection of these top two candidate sites is an exciting milestone in the Thirty-Meter Telescope’s journey from vision to reality. We are grateful for the tireless efforts of our project team and the tremendous vision and support of the Moore Foundation and our international partners that have brought us to this point. We look forward to moving ahead rapidly and with all due diligence toward the selection of our preferred site.”

TFOT has covered the latest photos from ESA’s Mars Express Orbiter, and NASA’s ultraviolet mosaic of the nearby “Triangulum Galaxy“, an image combining 39 individual frames taken over 11 hours of exposure time. TFOT also reported on the Hubble Space Telescope website, which was created by the Office of Public Outreach and includes a huge image gallery accompanied by Flash presentations.

For more information on the TMT and its possible future location see UC Santa Cruz’s press release.

Image credit: UC Santa Cruz.

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