Scientists are eager to bring the universe a little closer to home with the soon-to-be world’s largest optical Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). The telescope was recently approved to be built on the dormant volcano Mauna Kea next to its famous cousin, the Keck Telescope.
The TMT’s massive mirror has a diameter of 30 meters – that’s nearly 3 times the size of the current largest visual telescope GranTeCan (10.4 meters). Because the TMT is so large, it has tremendous light collecting power – making it 156 times stronger than the Hubble Space Telescope (2.4 meters). This means very faint objects that are otherwise invisible to smaller telescopes can now be picked up and analyzed. But this 30 meter mirror isn’t one giant piece of glass – if it were, it would eventually distort and collapse under its own weight. Instead, this Ritchey-Chretien reflecting telescope is composed of 492 smaller hexagon shaped mirrors that fit perfectly together in a tessellated pattern. In addition to the astronomical light gathering power, the TMT will use adaptive optics to correct and clarify any blurriness caused by turbulence in the atmosphere.
The TMT is designed to observe data ranging from ultraviolet wavelengths all the way up to the mid-infrared, making it an essential tool in studying star and galaxy formation. Perhaps most exciting though is the hotter new studies opening up in astrophysics: extrasolar planet discovery and dark matter characterization.
The enormous size and piercing light sensitivity of the TMT will both make history and discover the history of the universe. Although the completion date is closer to the next decade, scientists and us astronomy enthusiasts will anxiously await for the world’s biggest eye to take its first glance into the universe.