We’re liking this thought-proving post from journalist Anne Minard, on the “next great telescope race”–Day 14 of her “100 Days of Science.” She asks some great questions about the fundamental purpose of the two U.S. proposals for “next generation” giant land-based telescopes being proposed for construction within the next 10 years. Do we really need THIS much telescope, guys?
Charles Alcock, director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, acknowledged that the two telescopes are headed toward redundancy. The main differences, he said, are in the engineering.
He said the next generation of telescopes is crucial for forward progress in 21st Century astronomy.
“The goal is to start discovering and characterizing planets that might harbor life,” he said. “It’s very clear that we’re going to need the next generation of telescopes to do that.”
And far from being a competition, the real race is to contribute to science, said Charles Blue, a TMT spokesman.
“All next generation observatories would really like to be up and running as soon as possible to meet the scientific demand,” he said.
But when I asked him why the United States teams haven’t pooled their expertise to build a single next-generation telescope, Blue declined to comment.
In all, there are actually three teams (two from the U.S., and one from Europe) racing to build the first of these giant land-based telescopes: Extremely Large Telescope (Europe), TMT (U.S.), and Giant Magellan Telescope (U.S.). (And no, we’re not making these names up… in almost every description we could find, these bad boys are characterized first and foremost by their massive size.) The total estimated price tag for all this summit development? $2.6 billion dollars.
In the midst of this competition to build the first and the largest, the worldwide community of those who share aloha for sacred summits are humbly asking: for time and real consideration for native ecosystems, threatened endemic species, the cultural meaning of sacred space, cultural practice, and the natural and cultural heritage we have to pass forward to next generations… all in short supply on earth today. Can we not rationally slow down this latest race for space, in the interest of the future of life on our own planet?