CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By / par Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2019)

There has been no TMT construction activity since protestors blocked the access road on July 17. The situation remains peaceful, as described in our recent CASCA circular. We continue to welcome your feedback and questions. A good place for factual information about the work TMT has done to engage the Hawaiian community and more is the website

CATAC remains strongly supportive of the TMT, and of the activities the Project has undertaken over the past decade to consult with and engage the Hawaiian community. It has become increasingly clear in recent weeks that the most prominent voices heard during the first days following the anticipated restart of construction are not representative of most Hawaiians, including the Native population. There is significant support for TMT on the Big Island of Hawaii, and more and more people are coming forward to say so. Furthermore, many of the concerns expressed by the protestors have little to do with TMT itself, leaving hope that there is a way to address those concerns and build TMT at the same time.

As CATAC reported previously, the alternative site, in the Canary Islands, would allow TMT to realize most of its exciting potential. In particular, the site characteristics for adaptive optics in the near infrared are very competitive with those of Maunakea. However, the lower altitude and higher humidity of the ORM site severely compromise observations in the ultraviolet and mid-infrared. These wavelength regimes enable some compelling science cases, including the search for biosignatures on exoplanets. There is no doubt that Maunakea is superior to ORM for science observations, and for this reason we hope that, following some further work and negotiation, it will be possible to undertake TMT construction with broad Hawaiian support.

As we wait for these events to unfold, we are conscious of the potential additional delay to a project that is already five years behind schedule. The consequences of this should be considered deeply as we move into the process for LRP2020. TMT will hopefully have a long and productive lifetime – 40 years or more – and will shape many future generations of Canadian astronomers. It is CATAC’s opinion that the impact of this delay must be considered within this broader context: we must not risk or sacrifice the long-term benefits of having access to the best possible observatory for future Canadians.

It is important also to not lose focus on the long term development of this project, and with that in mind we remind you that the next TMT Science Forum will be November 4—6 2019, in Xiamen, China. This forum is a great opportunity to participate in, and influence, teams developing the future instrumentation suite for TMT. ACURA will again be providing some travel support for University-based researchers to attend this meeting. Requests can be directed to

We have proposed that the next Science Forum, sometime in 2020, be held in Canada, and this proposal has been welcomed by the Science Advisory Committee. Stay tuned for details.

CATAC membership:
Michael Balogh (University of Waterloo), Chair,
Bob Abraham (University of Toronto; TIO SAC)
Stefi Baum (University of Manitoba)
Laura Ferrarese (NRC)
David Lafrenière (Université de Montréal)
Harvey Richer (UBC)
Kristine Spekkens (Royal Military College of Canada)
Luc Simard (Director General of NRC-HAA, non-voting, ex-officio)
Don Brooks (Executive Director of ACURA, non-voting, ex-officio)
Rob Thacker (CASCA President, non-voting, ex-officio)
Kim Venn (Science Governor for Canada on TIO Governing Board, non-voting, ex-officio)
Stan Metchev (TIO SAC, non-voting, ex-officio)
Tim Davidge (TIO SAC Canadian co-chair; NRC, observer)
Greg Fahlman (NRC, observer)

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