NEW DELHI: With Democrat Joe Biden virtually clinching the US presidential election, hopes have been raised for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) in Hawaii. India is one of the partners in the ambitious next-generation observatory project along with the US, Canada, China and Japan.
The TMT project, despite being on high priority of the Barack Obama administration during 2009-17, could not take off during the Donald Trump presidency due to massive protests against its proposed site at Maunakea in Hawaii, which is considered sacred to the island’s indigenous people.
The project, conceived as the world’s most advanced and capable ground-based optical, near-infrared, and midinfrared observatory, will allow astronomers to see deeper into space and observe cosmic objects with unprecedented sensitivity with images being more than 12 times sharper than those from the Nasa’s Hubble Space Telescope.
“The project will allow astronomers to see deeper into space and observe cosmic objects with unprecedented sensitivity”
India is to contribute 10% of the $2 billion project. Though the partner countries, amid ongoing protests in Hawaii against the project, have zeroed in on alternative sites in Spain’s Canary Islands, scientists believe that the proposed site at Maunakea is the best suited for the TMT due to its location. Besides the Canary Islands site, astronomers had initially also discussed alternative sites in Mexico and India (Ladakh).
“Maunakea is, however, the best site. It’s far better than the alternative site in the Canary Islands. It is decided that if the US won’t be able to carry on with this in Hawaii, the TMT project would be shifted to the Canary Islands,” said Eswar Reddy, astronomer at Indian Institute of Astrophyiscs, Bengaluru and programme director of the TMT-India project. Reddy told TOI on Sunday that several off-site works on the project were going on in all the five countries.
“We have all legal permits and building permits in Hawaii. The project is, however, delayed due to local protests. We hope it will take off mid-next year. It will take nearly 8-10 years to be fully functional,” he said.
“India is one of the partners in the ambitious next-generation observatory project. India will contribute 10% of the $2 billion project.”
It is believed that the fate of the project would be known early next year when the new US administration finalises its priority in terms of funding. India has been quite serious about this project, considering its spin off and co-benefits in various strategic sectors such as space and defence through use of new technologies. India is expected to contribute 83 of total 492 segmented mirrors for the project. These segments, while precisely aligned, will work as a single reflective surface of 30m diameter.
“The TMT can revolutionise the understanding of the universe and the enigmas in it. It is expected to provide facilities with even greater capabilities to gather the observations needed to answer new and emerging questions in astronomy and physics in general,” said Shashi Bhushan Pandey, scientist at Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences, Nainital.
Indian astronomers, including Pandey, have collaborated with 2020 Physics Nobel laureate Andrea Ghez on the TMT project and closely worked on the design of backend instruments and possible science prospects. Ghez was part of the team working towards evaluating possible front-line science cases and instrumentation for TMT utilising associated cutting-edge technologies like adaptive optics.