Canada commits $243.5 million for B.C.-built telescope in Hawaii

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Image: TMT International Observatory

The Canadian federal government has renewed its commitment of $243.5 million to fund a portion of the construction of the world’s largest telescope.

The US$1.5 billion, 30-metre diameter telescope will be built at the summit of the Mauna Kea volcano near other existing observatory facilities.

The volcano’s summit at an altitude of 4,050 metres has been a renowned area for skywatching due to its dark skies, low humidity, clean air, ideal weather and almost equatorial position.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced yesterday that Canadian funding for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) will be provided over a ten year timeline.

“This revolutionary facility has the potential to transform astronomers’ understanding of the universe,” said Harper in a statement. “Our Government is proud to be an official partner in this important project and to be contributing to science that will advance Canadian and international scientific discovery.”

TMT has been years in the making and was founded by the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy.

Aside from Canada’s financial commitment, four other nations are involved with funding the telescope: Japan, China, India and the United States. About $100 million has already been spent for research and design, including $30 million in Canadian funding mainly from Canada’s National Research Council and the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

According to a release, the majority of Ottawa’s nearly quarter billion dollars in newly committed funding will be spent in Canada to create high-quality jobs during the construction and assembly of the telescope.

Port Coquitlam’s Dynamic Structures Ltd. has designed the telescope’s massive precision-steel enclosure and will also construct the device for shipment to Hawaii.

In addition, the telescope’s advance adaptive optics technology will be developed by the National Research Council in partnership with Canadian companies. This enables the telescope to achieve its unprecedented sensitivity and image clarity.

TMT will provide researchers with a resolution 12 times finer than what can be achieved with the Hubble Space Telescope. The telescope allows astronomers to study the origins of stars, planets and supermassive black holes as well as the formation and evolution of galaxies located millions of light years away.

“Our participation in the Thirty Meter Telescope project will generate new capabilities and technologies in Canada which will help create and maintain high-quality jobs in communities across the country,” Harper added. “It is also a real tribute to Canadian know-how that a British Columbia firm was selected to build the telescope’s enclosure.”

Construction on the telescope’s foundation at Mauna Kea began last summer. The gargantuan device is scheduled to be operational in 2023-2024.

Upon completion, Canadian scientists will have a ‘viewing share’ of the telescope – one of the conditions of the federal government’s investment.

“This commitment to the Thirty Meter Telescope project will help ensure Canadian scientists remain at the forefront of this field and further advance Canada’s position as a world leader in research and innovation,” said Arvind Gupta, UBC president and vice-chancellor, in a statement.

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