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Thirty Meter Telescope to be Most Powerful Telescope in History [VIDEO]

Jul 17, 2013 04:23 PM EDT

By 2022, the most massive, powerful telescope in the history of the world will be in operation in Hawaii on the dormant volcano Mauna Kea, taking unprecedented images of deep outer space. 

Compared to the Hubble Space Telescope, which is widely regarded as the most revolutionary astronomical instrument of the generation, the new project, known as the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), will best the Hubble in many categories.

At 30 meters across, the TMT will have 144 times the light collecting area of the Hubble and have spatial resolution at near-infrared and wavelengths 10 times that of Hubble's.

"The Hubble Space Telescope has definitely set a milestone in high-resolution imaging. We've all seen beautiful pictures of distant galaxies," said Richard Ellis, a professor of astronomy at Caltech.

"TMT, with adaptive optics, give us a much finer quality of detail than Hubble Space Telescope," he said.

TMT's 30-meter diameter will best the current largest visual telescope, GranTeCan, by nearly three times.

Andrea Ghez, a professor of physics and astronomy at University of California, Los Angeles, said the TMT will help answer questions essential to the meaning of life.

The sheer size of the telescope will allow it to peer deeper into the cosmos, while adaptive optic technology will allow for the correction of the blurring caused by atmospheric distortion that limits terrestrial telescopic observations.

However, building the huge mirror that functions as the backbone of the telescope is an industrial challenge. If the mirror were one large piece of glass - which is virtually impossible at such a scale - the telescope would eventually distort and collapse under its own weight. Instead, the 30-meter mirror will be fashioned out of 492 smaller hexagonal mirrors designed to fit perfectly together to form one massive mirror.

"It's big enough that we can make the next leap in terms of the physical understanding of our universe, while not being so big as to be unbuildable" said Ghez.

The enormous size and detailed optical resolution of the TMT will both make history while uncovering it at the same time.

TMT is under construction and is scheduled to begin scientific operations in 2022.


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