India, a partner in the construction of the Thirty Metre Telescope (TMT), has said it wants the project to be moved out of the proposed site at Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano in Hawaii.
- The $2 billion projects (one of the largest telescopes in the world), a joint venture involving five countries, has been marred by protests for over a decade as the proposed site is considered sacred to the island’s indigenous Hawaiians.
- The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is a proposed astronomical observatory with an extremely large telescope (ELT).
- It is an international project being funded by scientific organizations of Canada, China, India, Japan, and the USA.
- Planned location: Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii in the US state of Hawaii.
- The mega telescope completed its design and development phase in 2009, but legal challenges from Native Hawaiian activists who treasure Mauna Kea for cultural and religious reasons have hounded the telescope.
- Protests at the site last year saw scientists unable to access other telescope facilities in Mauna Kea. The project has been delayed by nearly five years and should have begun operations by 2025.
- The TMT is designed for near-ultraviolet to mid-infrared observations, featuring adaptive optics to assist in correcting image blur.
- TMT will enable scientists to study fainter objects far away from us in the Universe, which gives information about the early stages of evolution of the Universe.
- It will give us finer details of not-so-far-away objects like undiscovered planets and other objects in the Solar System and planets around other stars.
- India has committed $200 million, which is about a tenth of the proposed cost.
- The telescope needs 492 precisely polished mirrors and India is to contribute 83 of them. The project delay has meant that these manufacturing contracts have also been delayed.
- The level of contribution determines the amount of viewing time, or slots, that the member-countries scientists get on the machine. Thus India, in a given year, stands to get 10% of the available slots.
Why Mauna Kea?
Mauna Kea, which is considered a superior site due to the imaging possibilities it offers, its stable weather, and also because it has the necessary infrastructure to manage telescopes, already being host to several telescopes.
- The TMT has been a litigious site since 2014.
- In 2018, the Supreme Court of Hawaii gave permission for construction to proceed but the project’s proponents have not made progress because they were obstructed twice, in 2015 and 2019, respectively, from construction.
- Canada, the United States, China, and Japan are the other and more significant partners in terms of the monetary and infrastructural aspects of the TMT.
- Representatives from member countries are expected to convene in Los Angeles in February to decide on project modalities.
Alternate locations to be explored
- The next best site to locate the telescope is the Observatorio del Roque de Los Muchachos (ORM) on La Palma in the Canary Islands, Spain.
Hanle, in Ladakh, was also in the running to host the TMT. But, India too has its problems with hosting ambitious science projects. The Indian Neutrino Observatory proposed to come up in Theni, Tamil Nadu, has also been stalled due to protests against the project in the State.