Everything You Need to Know About the Thirty Meter Telescope - The Future Largest Telescope in the World

Thursday, 28 May 2015 - 11:49AM
Space
Astronomy
Thursday, 28 May 2015 - 11:49AM
Everything You Need to Know About the Thirty Meter Telescope - The Future Largest Telescope in the World
The proposed Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) has been the subject of awe, controversy, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mix-ups (just kidding about that last one). Construction on Caltech's plans for the telescope has been halted as a result of worldwide demonstrations against the planned behemoth, but it is still thought to be on track to be finished in 2024, at which time it will be the largest telescope in the world. Here's everything you need to know about this trailblazing piece of technology:




Its size alone is groundbreaking


Everything You Need to Know About the Thirty Meter Telescope - The Future Largest Telescope in the World

The telescope itself will stand at a whopping 18 stories high, and true to its name, TMT's mirror will be approximately thirty meters, or almost a hundred feet. This is three times larger than the mirror of the biggest existing telescope today, so large in fact, that it's impossible to create a single sheet of glass to accommodate the plans. Instead, the engineers are building the mirror in hundreds of smaller segments.

"Thirty meters is roughly 400 segments," said UCLA astronomer Andrea Ghez. "It's big enough that you can make the next leap in terms of our understanding of the physical universe, while not being so big as to be unbuildable."


It could map the history of the universe


Everything You Need to Know About the Thirty Meter Telescope - The Future Largest Telescope in the World

TMT will be able to peer into deep space further and with more clarity than ever before, which could lead to a whole host of discoveries about our mysterious universe. According to Caltech astronomer Richard Ellis, TMT will be able to "build a picture book of how the universe has evolved from its beginnings to the present day," as astronomers will be able to study our universe's early history, such as when the first galaxies came into existence. It could also help scientists solve longstanding enigmas in theoretical physics, such as the nature of dark matter and the possible presence of Earth-like planets outside of our solar system.

"Why we're here, what's the origin of life, why the properties of the universe is the way it is - it's still a quest," said Ellis. Scientists believe TMT is a step forward in ending that quest.


It's controversial


Everything You Need to Know About the Thirty Meter Telescope - The Future Largest Telescope in the World

While the scientific applications of the TMT are undeniably awe-inspiring, many believe that scientists are using unethical means to get there. The size of the proposed telescope made it difficult for the committee to find a location, and after a year of scouting they settled on the summit of Mauna Kea. From a scientific perspective, the location is ideal, as the summit would accommodate the telescope's size and the atmospheric properties would allow the telescope to discern sharper views of the universe.

But unfortunately, native Hawaiians view the summit as sacred ground, leading to accusations of colonialism and ethnocentricism on the part of the astronomers and the scientific community at large. As a result of widespread protesting, construction has been halted, and the fate of the telescope is somewhat up in the air.

This is a difficult issue, as there are only so many places that a telescope of this size can be built, and many would argue that the implications of the discoveries that could be made by the TMT are of paramount importance. But the consent of the indigenous peoples cannot be ignored, and regardless of the potential scientific advancements that could be made, I would hope that we would not be imperialistic and disrespectful getting there.


How it works


Everything You Need to Know About the Thirty Meter Telescope - The Future Largest Telescope in the World

Mauna Kea is 14,000 feet above sea level, but there's still potential distortion of the telescope's images as a result of the layer of atmosphere surrounding the earth. "The trick to this is to shine a laser into the atmosphere and to watch the spot to tell us how that atmospheric distortion is happening," Ghez said.

Once the scientists are aware of the atmospheric distortion, they can correct for the effect, allowing for more accurate imaging of our universe. "So the correction effectively takes out the twinkling of starlight and renders them as very sharp points of light," said Ellis. As a result, the TMT will return images with finer detail and more clarity than even the Hubble space telescope.

Via Business Insider.
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