The University of California is currently spearheading a collaborative project to build the world’s most advanced telescope.

Once completed in 2018, the Thirty Meter Telescope will allow astronomers to undertake groundbreaking studies of the universe. Although the instrument’s grand opening is nearly a decade away, the project took a major step forward in mid-July with the selection of Mauna Kea, Hawaii for the telescope’s location. UCSB’s own Chancellor Henry T. Yang – who also serves as chairman of the TMT board – said the telescope will tremendously advance scientific discovery.

“Astronomy addresses some of the most fundamental questions we can ask: What is the physical nature of the universe? What is our place in the universe? Does life exist elsewhere in the universe?” Yang said. “The Thirty Meter Telescope will lead to exciting discoveries of new phenomena and physics that we can’t even imagine yet.”

According to a press release, the telescope will revolutionize the field of physics, allowing astronomers to study light from the earliest stars and galaxies and examine the formation of planets around stars.

Yang said the TMT will have the capability to peer back some 13 billion light years, to the formation of the first generation of stars and galaxies.

“As another example of how powerful it will be, it would be capable of allowing someone at the top of the Empire State Building in New York to read a billboard in Los Angeles – that is, on a clear day, of course,” Yang said.

Moreover, TMT spokesperson Charles Blue said the giant telescope will integrate the latest scientific innovations in heavyweight ground-based optical scopes and will push the frontier of technology.

“The core technology of TMT will be its 492-segment, 30-meter diameter primary mirror,” Blue said. “This remarkable engineering achievement will give TMT nine times the collecting area of today’s largest optical telescopes.”

The largest telescopes in the world are currently about 10 meters long, making the TMT the pioneer in a new generation of telescopes. Because of its remarkable size and complexity, the TMT will be able to study the universe as clearly as if it were positioned in space, according to a press release.

Yang also said the telescope’s precision control, segmented mirror design and adaptive optics will allow it to correct the blurring of cosmic sources caused by the Earth’s atmosphere.

Furthermore, Edward Stone, Caltech’s Morrisroe Professor of Physics and vice chairman of the TMT board, said the TMT will have unsurpassed focusing power due to its adaptive optics and enormous size.

“The TMT will have nine times the capability of any telescope to capture starlight,” Stone said. “It acts as a time machine in the way that we will be able to see objects as they were 13 billion years ago.”

The UC, Caltech and an organization of Canadian universities constitute the major players behind the TMT project. According to a press release, the collaborative project has completed its $77 million design phase due to the financial support of Canadian patrons and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

The project was able to enter its early construction phase because of a subsequent $200 million pledge from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Caltech and the UC plan to raise $50 million each, increasing the construction total to $300 million. The Canadian partners intend to supply the enclosure, the TMT structure and the first light adaptive optics.