TMT partner says project should move to different site

  • An artist’s rendering of TMT against a backdrop of other Maunakea telescopes. Courtesy image

HILO — One of the six partners involved in the Thirty Meter Telescope project no longer wants the telescope to be built on Maunakea, according to news reports.

In a Jan. 21 article in The Hindu, the second-largest English newspaper in India, the secretary of India’s Department of Science and Technology, Ashutosh Sharma, was quoted as saying that the Indian government wants the TMT project to move to a different site.

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“India’s position has been clear,” Sharma reportedly told The Hindu. “We would like the project to move to an alternate site if all the procedures and permits there are in place. The difficulty is that even if construction (on Maunakea) were to go ahead, there could be future agitations.”

TMT Vice President Gordon Squires said in a statement to the Tribune-Herald that the project as a whole remains committed to Maunakea.

“TIO (Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory) as an organization has determined that Hawaii is still the preferred site for the Thirty Meter Telescope,” Squires said in the statement. “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.”

India’s Department of Science and Technology is one of six full partners invested in the TMT project, along with the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, the National Research Council of Canada, the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences and National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. India joined the project as an observer in 2010, becoming a full member in 2014.

According to The Hindu, India has committed $200 million to the project, about 10% of the proposed cost, and is currently manufacturing 83 of the 492 mirrors required to complete the TMT, as well as 100 of the mountings for those mirrors. India also is responsible for developing the software necessary to control the telescope.

So far, no other partner has publicly advocated for moving the project from Maunakea, which is considered to be the optimal site for the telescope.

If the project were to be moved, the most likely secondary choice would be the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands. While TMT officials have secured some of the necessary paperwork to build on La Palma, they said in November that was a formality.

Representatives of the project partners are expected to meet in February. Eswar Reddy, program director for the India TMT Coordination Center, told The Hindu that “by this year, we have to take a firm call on where the project has to be located.”

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TMT spokesperson Scott Ishikawa said that the project does not provide specific scheduled meeting dates, but acknowledged that the board does meet regularly.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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