China and India have picked their horse to back in the race to build the world’s biggest telescope. The two nations signed on to help build the Thirty Meter Telescope, or TMT, a project spearheaded by scientists at Cal Tech, the University of California and a number of observatories, and based in Hawaii. Japan and Canada have also signed on to support the TMT, which hopes to be seeing stars in 2018.
China and India will each provide at least 10 percent of the project’s anticipated $1 billion price tag.
Two other very large telescopes are also under development. One is the $700 million Giant Magellan Telescope, led by scientists at American universities including Harvard, the University of Chicago and the University of Arizona, and sited in Chile. Giant Magellan, which will feature a 24.5 meter aperture, also has support from universities in Australia and South Korea, and is due to open in 2019. Meanwhile, 15 nations break ground this year on the European Extremely Large Telescope, a 42.5 meter behemoth expected to come online in 2022. The E-ELT will also be sited in Chile.
A Chinese scientist, Shude Mao, professor of astrophysics at National Astronomical Observatories of China, told the Associated Press that ‘‘this will represent a quantum leap for the Chinese community.’’
China and India’s support for TMT includes both financial contributions and in-kind contributions like software development. It comes just weeks after the U.S.’s National Science Foundation said it would have no money available to contribute to building either TMT or Giant Magellan this decade.
In India, Eswar Reddy, of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics expressed pride in the role his nation’s scientists would play in the telescope, telling the Deccan Chronicle that “India is developing activators and edge sensors to help maintain the surface of the telescope.”