Strength In Numbers

by Katie Neith

Since its inception, Caltech has been dedicated to under-taking big, risky projects, particularly in the area of exploring our universe. Astronomer George Ellery Hale, one of the men credited with molding the Institute into a world-class science and engineering college, was the primary creative force behind the famed Palomar Observatory. Now, nearly 70 years after the groundbreaking 200-inch Hale Telescope—then the world’s largest—saw first light on that Southern California mountaintop, Caltech, along with the University of California and a group of international partners, is again leading the way toward the construction of what will be the world’s most advanced ground-based telescope, the Thirty Meter Telescope, or TMT.

“Thinking big and taking on the world’s largest astronomical telescopes is something we’ve been doing since the 1920s—it’s in our blood, in some sense,” says astronomer Shri Kulkarni, director of Caltech Optical Observatories. Like those observatories that have come before, he says, TMT is an ambitious project of incredible scope, a project that both has been and will be years and years in the making. Alone, the still-ongoing process of planning and developing TMT has taken over a decade. It’s estimated that constructing the telescope, building its instruments, and getting all of its mechanical systems online will take another eight years. The site where TMT will be built was blessed in the traditional Hawaiian manner October 7, and first light is currently planned for the early 2020s.

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