Thirty Meter Telescope

Astronomy's next generation observatory.


Site Information: FAQs

What is TMT?

The TMT, or Thirty Meter Telescope, will be the world’s most advanced and capable observatory. It will have the ability to study objects too faint or too distant to observe with existing facilities, and be a key tool for answering many of the most compelling and important questions in all of science.

The TMT’s primary mirror, the core technology of TMT, will measure 30 meters in diameter and be made up of 492 individual segments. This exquisitely precise mirror will enable TMT to achieve better resolution and light-gathering power than any observatory to date.

Who is building this new observatory?

The U.S. scientific community identified the critical need for a telescope with a 30-meter primary mirror in the 2001 Decadal Survey for astronomy by the U.S. National Research Council. It is also a priority of the Canadian Long Range Plan for Astronomy. The TMT Observatory Corporation, a non-profit company, was formed to plan, design, build, and operate the Thirty Meter Telescope.

On May 6, 2014, the TMT International Observatory LLC (TIO) was formed with Members:

  • The California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
  • The National Institutes of Natural Sciences (Japan)
  • The National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Science (China)
  • The Regents of the University of California (UC)

The goal of TIO is to design, develop, build and operate the Thirty Meter Telescope.

The Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA) and Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA) joined as Associates and continue to be active in the TMT Project with in-kind contributions. The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) also joined as an Associate.

Major funding has been provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Where will the observatory be located?

The 2000 Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan identified the preferred location for the next generation optical/infrared telescope as the 36-acre area identified as “Area E” on the northern plateau. The northern plateau is a relatively flat lava flow plateau below the summit ridge cinder cones. Area E is a portion of the northern plateau that is within the Astronomy Precinct and is situated approximately one-half mile northwest and roughly 500 feet below the existing optical/infrared observatories on the summit ridge.

The TMT fits the description of next generation optical/infrared telescope envisioned when the 2000 Master Plan was prepared. If located on Maunakea, the TMT would be located within Area E, at either the site referred to as 13N or E2, described above. The TMT Observatory would occupy an area of approximately 5 acres.

Why is Maunakea (Mauna Kea) spelled as one word in the Draft EIS?

Maunakea is spelled as one word because it is considered the traditional Hawaiian spelling (Ka Wai Ola, Vol. 25 No. 11). Maunakea is a proper noun, therefore spelled as one word in Hawaiian. This spelling is found in original Hawaiian language newspapers dating back to the late 1800s when the Hawaiian language was the medium of communication. In more recent years Maunakea has been spelled as two words, which literally mean “white mountain.” Spelled as two words it is a common noun that could refer to any white mountain verses the proper name of this particular mountain on Hawai'i Island. The common “Mauna Kea” spelling is only used where Mauna Kea is used in a proper name, such as the “Mauna Kea Science Reserve.”

Potential Impact of TMT

Would locating the TMT on Mauna Kea affect Native Hawaiian cultural practices?

The issues surrounding cultural practices and the sacredness of Maunakea are very important, and the TMT is working with the local community to minimize the potential cultural impacts of the Project. This subject is discussed in detail in Section 3.2 of the Draft EIS.

The University of Hawaii has developed a Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) for Mauna Kea, which has also assembled information on cultural and historic resources. The university is also preparing a Cultural Resources Management Plan and Access Plan in compliance with the conditions of the CMP acceptance. The TMT Project would comply with applicable requirements set forth in the CMP and upcoming sub-plans to provide for the preservation of both cultural resources and practices.

Would locating the TMT on Mauna Kea have adverse affects on the mountain environment?

All possible measures will be considered to minimize the impact of building and operating the observatory on the environment and habitats of Maunakea.

The summit of Mauna Kea contains habitat for the W?kiu bug (Nysius wekiuicola), a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and certain species of lichens and ferns. At Hale Pohaku, where improvements to facilities would be made and a construction baseyard would be located, the palila (Loxiodes bailleui), an endangered bird listed under the ESA; m?mane (Sophora chrysophylla), a native tree that is the primary food source of the palila; and Hawaii catchfly (Silene hawaiiensis), a threatened shrub listed under the ESA, may be present.

Among other things, potential impacts on biological resources are evaluated in the Draft EIS. Impacts of both the TMT Observatory and associated ancillary facilities have been considered, including construction staging areas, access roads, and other areas within the zone of construction. The potential Project impacts on the ecosystems of Maunakea and Hale P?haku are discussed in Section 3.4 of the Draft EIS.

The management of environmental resources on Maunakea is addressed in the CMP; this will be expanded upon in the upcoming Natural Resources Management Plan being developed by the university. The TMT would comply with requirements set forth in the CMP and upcoming sub-plans.

Planning Process

What is the environmental review process?

Any project in Hawaii proposed by a state agency or on state land is subject to Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) Chapter 343. The Thirty Meter Telescope is being proposed by the University of Hawaii and is considering a location within the Astronomy Precinct of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve, on conservation land leased to the University of Hawai`i by the Department of Land and Natural Resources. Thus the TMT project is subject to HRS Chapter 343.

TMT will comply with HRS Chapter 343 by completing the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process to assess potential impacts the Project could have on the environment.

The EIS process began with an EIS Preparation Notice/Environmental Assessment, followed by a number of public scoping meetings, both on Hawai`i Island and on O‘ahu (in October 2008). The applicable comments, issues, and suggestions from those meetings and written scoping comments have been addressed in the Draft EIS for the TMT Project.

With completion of the Draft EIS, another series of public meetings will be held to gather comments on the Draft EIS. Written comments are being solicited. All written comments will be considered and responded to during the development of the Final EIS.

The Final EIS will be submitted to the University of Hawai’i Board of Regents for approval, then to the Governor. The Governor has 30 days to approve the document. If it is approved, there is a 60-day legal challenge period. The Final EIS will then be submitted to the Department of Land and Natural Resources as a part of the Conservation District Use Application (CDUA).

An EIS is not, in itself, a permit or authorization. It is a statement of environmental facts and provides information that can aid in deciding whether to grant a permit or aid in preparing any conditions that are placed on a permit, such as a Conservation District Use Permit (CDUP).

Who determines if the observatory can be built on Maunakea?

The final decision to issue a permit will be made by the Board of Land and Natural Resources. The key decision they will make is whether to approve the Conservation District Use Permit (CDUP) for this Project.