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Horizons

Volcano says aloha to world's largest telescope

By Matthew Shaer / July 23, 2009

An artist's rendering made available by the TMT Observatory Corporation shows the proposed Thirty Meter Observatory. A consortium of U.S. and Canadian universities on Tuesday announced it has decided to build the world's largest telescope in Hawaii. Mauna Kea volcano was picked by Thirty Meter Telescope Observatory Corp. The other finalist candidate site was Chile's Cerro Armazones mountain.

AP Photo/TMT Observatory Corporation

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In the end, it came down to two potential sites – Mauna Kea in Hawaii and Cerro Armazones in Chile. But yesterday, the board of directors of the Thirty Meter Telescope Observatory Corporation selected Mauna Kea as the site for the a new telescope, said to be the largest such device ever constructed.

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According to the Associated Press, the telescope's mirror will stretch almost 100 feet in diameter – large enough to gather light that's spent the last 13 billion years traveling to Earth. If the device works as anticipated, researchers would be able to peer out at images of the first stars and galaxies.

"It will sort of give us the history of the universe," spokesman Charles Blue told the AP.

Edward Stone, Caltech's Morrisroe Professor of Physics and vice chairman of the TMT board, said in a statement that Mauna Kea was a natural choice for the telescope. "The atmospheric conditions, low average temperatures, and very low humidity will open an exciting new discovery space using adaptive optics and infrared observations," he said.

The telescope, which will not be completed until 2018, is the product of a wide-ranging partnership among several international bodies, including the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, and ACURA, an organization of Canadian universities.

Mauna Kea already plays host to a range of telescopes. Many are perched atop the same dormant volcano where the Thirty Meter Telescope will be constructed – a site favored by astronomers because its summit sits at 13,796 feet, high above the clouds.

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