India, China collaborate to build worlds largest telescope
January 12, 2012

Cementing ties once again for the greater international good, China and India have decided to work together as partners to build a and operate a telescope in Hawaii expected to be the world’s largest when its built by 2018. The neighbors will each pay a share of the construction cost expected to top US$1 billion for the 30 meter telescope to be built at the summit of Mauna Kea volcano. They will also have a share of the observation time. It’s the first advanced telescope in which either nation has been a partner.

The telescope, known as TMT, will be able to observe planets that orbit stars other than the sun and enable astronomers to watch new planets and stars being formed. It should also help scientists see some 13 billion light years away for a glimpse into the early years of the universe.

“This will represent a quantum leap for the Chinese community,” Shude Mao, professor of astrophysics at National Astronomical Observatories of China, told the Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday from Waikoloa on the Big Island, where he was attending a meeting of the telescope’s scientific advisory committee.

Mao added that Chinese astronomers would likely want to use TMT to study the origin of planets outside our solar system, black holes, dark matter and dark energy. China has leading theoretical astrophysicists, but it lags in the field of observational astronomy. The telescope will help China overcome that. “China is ambitious in terms of its science goals. Really it wants to catch up as fast as we can,” he said. China would contribute at least 10 percent of the construction cost, and more if its budget allows, a further 70 percent of its contribution will be in-kind.

“So it’s a huge jump for us from the 4-meter to the 30-meter,” G.C. Anupama, professor at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics told the AP in a telephone interview from the sidelines of the advisory committee’s meeting. “It definitely will take Indian astronomy to greater heights.” The largest telescope in India has a 2-meter mirror, though the nation is currently building one that will be 4 meters long.

Indian scientists would be interested in using the TMT to study the Milky Way galaxy and some of the oldest stars in the universe, Anupana said. India expects to contribute 10 percent of the telescope’s construction cost. Seventy percent of this will be in kind, in the form of equipment and parts.

The University of California system, the California Institute of Technology and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy founded the telescope, which is expected to be finished in 2018.

China joined as an observer in 2009, followed by India the next year. Both are now partners, with representatives on the TMT board. Japan, which has its own large telescope at Mauna Kea, the 8.3-meter Subaru, is also a partner.

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