Japan, the United States, China, Canada and India are scheduled to launch work Tuesday to build the world’s biggest telescope, known as the 30-meter telescope, or TMT, near the summit of the Mauna Kea volcano on Hawaii Island.
They plan to complete the construction in March 2022. Japan will cover about a quarter of the construction costs, or about ¥150 billion.
To mark the start of construction, some 100 astronomers and officials from the five countries were scheduled to attend a ceremony held Tuesday at a location 4,012 meters high on Mount Mauna Kea.
The TMT will be larger than Japan’s Subaru Telescope, one of the world’s biggest, which was also built on the summit of Mauna Kea and started observation in 1999.
The Subaru Telescope’s single main mirror measures 8.2 meters in diameter, while the TMT will be composed of 492 hexagonal mirrors, each measuring 72 cm across.
The TMT’s light-condensing capabilities will be 13 times greater than the Subaru telescope’s, enabling the identification of an object as small as a ¥1 coin from a distance equivalent to that between Osaka and Tokyo.
Astronomer Masanori Ie, a professor at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan who leads the Japanese team on the TMT project, said the new telescope will broaden the understanding of the cosmos.
A telescope with greater light-condensing capabilities can search for stars that are less bright or farther from Earth. The most distant and oldest star observed to date was born some 800 million years after the Big Bang.
The TMT will help astronomers observe stars which were born 200 million to 400 million years after the Big Bang.
The TMT will also have the potential to help identify whether planets outside the solar system have atmospheres that are capable of supporting life.