Executive Summary The Thirty-Meter-Telescope (TMT) is a proposed world-leading 30m optical-infrared telescope to be built in Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The international TMT partnership currently consists of California Institute of Technology (Caltech), University of California (UC) and Canada, with Japan being a participant (the second of three stages in becoming a partner). Caltech/UC built the first 10m telescope (KECK) on time and within budget. The expertise and technology accumulated in building KECK is a key to reduce the cost and risks involved in this billion-dollar project. TMT’s large aperture, state-of-the-art instrumentations combined with excellent observing site and advanced adaptive optics will revolutionise many fields in astronomy. TMT will directly image and probe the atmospheres of extrasolar planets; it will provide key insights into the nature of dark matter and dark energy, and shed light on how galaxies, stars, black holes and planets form and evolve.
Chinese astronomy has made considerable progress in the last decade. The near completion of LAMOST, with its scientific potential, has attracted worldwide attention. Large ground-base facilities and space missions either currently under construction, or are in the planning stage open unprecedented windows of opportunity for Chinese astronomers to make globally competitive contributions. Several high-profile centers of excellence are being established as international forums for intellectual exchanges and stimulating incubators for conceptual innovation. These developments are paving the path for future generations of Chinese astronomers to enter the center stage of world scientific community in the foreseeable future.
The Chinese Astrophysics Strategy Committee (天体物理发展战略专家委员会), after careful deliberations, recommended the participation in the TMT as the highest priority for the future development of Chinese astronomy. TMT will thrust China into the forefront of astronomy for many decades to come; it will bring China transformational benefits in terms of science, management, technology and industry through international collaborations. It will also maximize the scientific potentials of China’s other large astronomy projects, such as LAMOST and FAST. This document sets out the key science goals and sample observational programmes. We also survey the current astrophysics expertise within China and identify areas that need to be strengthened in the next decade in preparation for the first light of TMT in 2018.
1 Introduction 4
2 Justification and benefits in joining TMT 6
3 Overview of TMT Observatory and Instruments 8
4 TMT science 11
Astronomy is the oldest science where curiosities have driven its advancement since the beginning of the mankind. Every man has asked the question: How did the universe begin? Are we alone in the universe? Astonishingly, astronomers are now on the verge of answering these fundamental questions with the next generation extremely large class telescopes such as the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). The Chinese participation in the TMT will place China in the forefront of astronomy for many decades to come; it can be a transformational experience for Chinese astronomy in terms of science, management and technology through international collaborations. The TMT partnership will form in the next two years, which offers a once in a lifetime opportunity that China simply cannot miss.
China has a rich and proud history in astronomy; Chinese civilisation kept the best record for comets, Sun spots, and supernovae in the world. For example, the supernovae Chinese record in the Song dynasty provides the best, accurate dating (in the year of 1054) of the supernovae explosion in the Crab nebulae. Only in the last few hundred years, China lagged behind the western world. This largely coincided with the invention of the first modern telescope 400 years ago by Galileo Galilei that opened new horizons for astronomical observations.
Astronomy has been at the forefront of scientific revolution, starting with the Copernicus's view of the Solar system. With increasingly large telescopes covering virtually all the wavelengths ranging from the radio to the gamma-ray, modern astronomy reveals a rich and beautiful Universe, revealing surprising unity between the smallest to large scales. In this regard, astronomy has contributed to our fundamental understanding of the physical world. Recent astronomical surveys reveal that the Universe is dominated by dark matter and dark energy. The nature of these two dark components is the most fundamental question in (astro-)physics today. The discovery of more than 400 extrasolar planet systems indicates that our solar system may be the exception rather than the norm; we have, with TMT, the exciting possibility to answer whether we are alone in the Universe.
Chinese astronomy has made considerable progress in the last decade. The near completion of LAMOST, with its scientific potential, has attracted worldwide attention. Large ground-base facilities and space missions either currently under construction, such as FAST and SVOM, or are in the planning stage, such as the Dome A project, open unprecedented windows of opportunity for Chinese astronomers to made globally competitive contributions in fronts covering a wide range of
wavelengths across the electromagnetic spectrum. Several high-profile centers of excellence are being established as international forums for intellectual exchanges and stimulating incubators for conceptual innovation. These developments are paving the path for future generations of Chinese astronomers and astrophysicists to enter the center stage of world scientific community in the foreseeable future.
The US Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey in 2000 listed a 30-m class giant segmented mirror telescope as the highest priority instrument, to be funded through a 50:50 public and private partnership. Such a telescope will provide a factor of 10 improvement in the light gathering power over the current generation of 8-10m class telescopes, enabling numerous new, exciting science to be done in the future. Since the Decadal Survey, three international collaborations have now emerged. In the US, the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) and the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) are the two forefront runners; in Europe, a 42m Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) is currently under intense discussion.
TMT is currently leading the race among the three in terms of technical design and fund raising. TMT involves California Institute of Technology (Caltech), University of California (UC) in the US, and a consortium of Canadian institutions; participation by the Japanese is expected. India and Brazil are also considering joining TMT. Caltech and UC are the two institutes that built the first 10m telescope (KECK) in the world on time and within budget. The same key technologies and expertise will be available for the construction of TMT. This substantially reduces the cost and risks involved for the participating partners. The TMT organisation has already raised substantial amount of funding (300 million US dollars out of the one billion required) with the Moore Foundation providing about 200 million funding plus the 60 million for the initial (high-risk) feasibility studies and construction plans.
Clearly the 30m class telescopes will become the standard in the next decade for optical-infrared observations. Currently the biggest general-purpose telescope in China is 2.4m, already severely behind state-of-the-art 8-10m class telescopes in terms of light-gathering power and instrumentations. Without access to a 30m class telescope in the next decade, Chinese observational astronomy will fall behind even further. The recent successful visit (in December 2009) by the TMT management team highlights China has the technological and industrial capabilities to play leading and major roles in a number of high-technology TMT instruments. China simply cannot miss the golden opportunity to join TMT for us to become a globally competitive force in astronomy.