side view of tmt complex

The Thirty Meter Telescope will eventually become the most advanced and powerful optical telescope on Earth.
Photo courtesy of

Groundbreaking for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) at the summit of the Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii began on Oct. 7, with Chancellor Henry T. Yang acting as Chairman of the Board for the TMT International Observatory (TIO).

The groundbreaking and dedication ceremony was held in Hawaii, on top of the Mauna Kea volcano. Once complete, the telescope, a ground-based large segmented mirror reflecting telescope capable of observing the near-ultraviolet to mid-infrared spectrums, will cost $1.4 billion and be used to study the evolution of the universe.

Yang gave the opening speech at the ceremony, praising the partners involved in the project, which include the University of California, Caltech and the University of Hawaii.

“With profound respect for the culture, environment, and values and thanks to the people of Hawaii, we appreciate the opportunity to build this revolutionary facility for expanding our understanding of the universe,” Yang said in a press release. “This is a remarkable partnership among institutions in five nations, in cooperation with the University of Hawaii, to achieve a shared, visionary goal.”

According to Yang, who has served as Chairman of the project since 2007, the plan for the “next world-leading ground-based astronomy facility” began in 2000 between the University of California and Caltech and now involves partners from Canada, Japan, China and India.

“UC is a world leader in many areas, including extra-solar planet discovery and characterization, formation and evolution of galaxies over cosmic time, the search for the nature of dark matter and dark energy, and the formation and evolution of super-massive black holes through cosmic time,” Yang said. “TMT is optimized to address these areas.”

Chancellor Henry Yang

Chancellor Henry Yang

Associate Director for TMT and UCSC professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics Dr. Michael Bolte said the project had a lot of potential, noting that the images captured by the telescope will be 10 times sharper than those from the Hubble Space Telescope.

“We have a pretty good idea about how that evolution has proceeded in the last 8 or 10 billion years. The TMT will be particularly powerful for mapping the first 3 to 4 billion years,” Bolte said. “We believe we should be able to get images and take spectra of the very first stars and galaxies that formed in the universe after the Big Bang.”

Bolte said the benefits afforded to the UC by participating in the project are numerous.

“The guaranteed access to the TMT will draw the best faculty, researchers and graduate students in astronomy to UC campuses,” Bolte said. “TMT partnership offers great opportunities to build international partnerships in astronomy research and in technology development relevant to instruments and adaptive optics.”

According to Shelly Meron, the media specialist representing TMT treasurer Nathan Brostrom, the University of California and Caltech contributed $250 million with a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Meron also said the University of California will fundraise an additional $50 million and that time on the telescope will divided among the project’s partners.

“Each partner will get a number of nights to use the TMT,” Meron said. “The number of nights is correlated to the share of funding each partner provides. The number of nights UC gets will be allocated among UC scientists.”