India joins Thirty Metre Telescope Project
Becoming a full partner in TMT will mean participating in the development and scientific use of what will be the world's most advanced and capable astronomical observatory. Three Indian institutes proposed to join the TMT project: the IUCAA, the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Bangalore, and the Aryabhata Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES), Nainital. "The government had regarded our proposal as a reasonable one and hence the decision," said Ajit Kembhavi, Director, Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune.
"In about a year's time, we expect this observer status to be converted into full partnership in the project," added Kembhavi. "The government and people of India recognise the importance of embarking on world class, international science collaboration," said Science and Technology Secretary T. Ramasami, who had accompanied the Minister to sign the agreement.
The 42-m European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the 24.5 m Grand Magellan Telescope (GMT) and the TMT of the United States were three international telescope projects where India could participate. Indian scientists will have access to the existing telescopes operated by Caltech. Caltech, the University of California and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy have partnered in the TMT project.
TMT will be capable of observations with a spatial resolution limited by the natural turbulence of the earth's atmosphere. The TMT will be able to observe objects nine times fainter than Keck in an equal amount of time.
Indian scientists will get a percentage of the observational time proportional to the percentage of the total project cost that the Indian government would be willing to bear. Though the final project cost is not yet clear, it is likely to be around $1 billion. The project has, completed its $77 million design development phase with $50 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and $22 million from Canada. The project has now entered its early construction phase because of an additional $200 million pledge from the Foundation. Caltech and University of California have agreed to raise matching funds of $50 million bringing the current construction investment to $300 million.
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