CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hiver 2021)

Recent News

The US Decadal report, released in November, clearly recognized the scientific excellence and importance of the US Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) Program, and TMT in particular. Furthermore, it lays out clear steps and milestones that the project must achieve in the next few years. Specifically, the report notes that “it will be necessary for NSF to commence with an external review with a target completion in 2023, in order to evaluate the financial and programmatic viability of both proposed U.S. ELT projects”. If states further that a decision for US federal investment should be predicated on several things, including final site selection and agreed-upon commitments from partners “for all of the necessary capital and operations money, pending only NSF investment”. This is certainly a challenge for TMT, but the clarity is very welcome, and the viability of the project is going to come rapidly into focus over the next two years.

CATAC is aware that if NSF becomes a TMT partner, this will have an impact on Canada’s share and opportunity for scientific and technological leadership. All avenues must be explored to maintain a significant share in the telescope, to fulfil our own Long Range Plan recommendation that “this participation be at a level that provides compelling opportunities for Canadian leadership in science, technology and instrumentation”. Astro2020 provides a clear roadmap and timeline that will help all partners, including Canada, to secure the resources necessary to satisfy their own ambitions. CATAC has begun working closely with GAC as they explore how to fulfil the LRP recommendation to ensure Canada has access to a VLOT in case of delays to, or failure of, TMT.

Site Update

The University of Hawaii released a draft plan for Mauna Kea in September, and held a period of open consultation after its release. Among other things, the draft calls for the number of astronomical sites at the summit to be reduced from fourteen to nine. The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory and Hōkū Keʻa decommissioning process is already underway, and the VLBA antenna will be decommissioned prior to 2033. A process is outlined to identify the remaining two facilities by the end of 2025. The sites of the decommissioned facilities will not be available for future astronomy use. The site on ORM remains a viable alternative for TMT, and CATAC reiterates that it remains scientifically acceptable.

The Maunakea legislative working group established by the Hawaii House of Representatives has been active through most of the year. Their mandate is to propose a new management structure for the mountain. There is information, including meeting notes, available on their web page. Their report is anticipated for late December 2021 or early 2022.

The site on Roque de los Muchachos Observatory (ORM) in La Palma remains a viable alternative for TMT, and CATAC reiterates that it remains scientifically acceptable. However, in August of this year, an appeal by environmental group Ben Magec to annul the land concession for TMT was successful. This decision has been appealed to a higher court.

TMT Science Forum

Canada was looking forward to hosting the next TMT Science Forum, in Vancouver in 2022. Due to the continued travel uncertainty associated with the pandemic, as well as the delay of Astro2020 and the imminent launch of JWST, it was decided to postpone this event until 2023.

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 (Acting CASCA President, non-voting, ex-officio)
Kim Venn (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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