Monday, January 27, 2020
India and China on the Telescope
The Thirty Meter Telescope’s partner in India wants to ditch Hawaii and build the next-generation telescope at the project’s backup site in the Canary Islands, a newspaper in India reported. India’s position has been clear. We would like the project to move to an alternate site if all the procedures and permits there are in place,” Ashutosh Sharma, secretary of the Department of Science and Technology, told The Hindu newspaper last week. “The difficulty is that even if construction (on Mauna Kea) were to go ahead, there could be future agitations,” Sharma said.
The $1.4 billion project has been on hold for nearly five years, the victim of legal and regulatory obstacles and a protest by those who hold the mountain sacred and view the project as a representation of injustice against Native Hawaiians. In La Palma, TMT officials have been given the green light to proceed with construction of the cutting-edge telescope and have paid a license fee.
Asked for a reaction to the India official’s comments, TMT Vice President Gordon Squires offered this statement: “TIO (TMT International Observatory) as an organization has determined that Hawaii is still the preferred site for the Thirty Meter Telescope. We continue to engage in private discussions with community members in finding a peaceful, lawful and non-violent way forward that honors and supports our scientific goals, environmental stewardship and the traditions and culture of Hawaii.”
THE HINDU newspaper report confirms rumors of dissent on the TMT International Observatory board of governors, which is made up of representatives of the University of California and Caltech, plus science agencies in India, China, Japan and Canada. As a full partner, India has committed $200,000 to the telescope’s construction and is in charge of observatory software and the support systems for the primary mirror segments.
The telescope, as designed, will have 492 polished mirrors and India is expected to contribute 83 of them, according to The Hindu, but the project delay has meant manufacturing contracts have also stalled. China reportedly is also pushing the international consortium to pursue construction at the project’s Plan B site in Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the highest mountain in La Palma.
But other partners appear to be holding out for the superior conditions found at the summit of Mauna Kea. At nearly 14,000 feet, Hawaii’s tallest mountain is nearly 6,000 feet higher than Roque de los Muchachos. Mauna Kea is colder, drier, more stable and better suited for key infrared observing. In the meantime, media reports in the Canary Islands indicate local officials are pushing the Spanish government to become a partner in the project, to make up for hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding that might be lost if the switch in site is made. In addition, officials have been talking to large private entities about joining the investment...
Meanwhile, back at the ranch: