Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation commits $200 million support for Thirty-Meter Telescope

The University of California and the California Institute of Technology have received a $200 million commitment over nine years from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation toward the further development and construction of the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT). Funding under this commitment will be shared equally between the two universities, with matching gifts from the two institutions expected to bring the total to $300 million. When built, TMT will be the largest telescope in the world.

Editor's Note: UC's participation in the TMT project is overseen by UC Observatories/Lick Observatory, headquartered on the UC Santa Cruz campus. UCO/Lick also operates Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton and oversees UC's participation in the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. Reporters who wish to speak to Michael Bolte, director of UCO/Lick and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UCSC, can send email to bolte@ucolick.org.
The telescope design is being developed by a U.S.-Canadian team that includes the University of California, the California Institute of Technology, and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA), with completion of the design development expected by March 2009.

"This is a tremendous investment by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in a path-breaking scientific tool with great potential for unlocking new insights about the nature of the universe," said UC President Robert C. Dynes. "UC and Caltech are pleased that the Foundation has recognized the tremendous research capacity of our institutions, and we look forward to the exciting findings that this telescope will deliver in the future."

With the TMT, astronomers will be able to locate and analyze the light from the first stellar systems born soon after the Big Bang, determine the physical processes governing the formation and evolution of galaxies like our own Milky Way, study planet formation around nearby stars, and make observations that test the fundamental laws of physics. However, it is the unexpected discoveries that TMT will make that will likely be the most exciting.

"The impressive scope of this project has now been matched by the extraordinary generosity from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Caltech and the UC System are thrilled with the foundation's confidence in the project, and we and our partners are eager to create a history-making tool that will allow us to see farther into the universe than ever before," said Caltech President Jean-Lou Chameau.

TMT will consist of a primary mirror with 492 individual 1.45-meter segments that together measure 30 meters in diameter, providing more than eight times the collecting area of the current largest telescope. All segments will be under precision computer control so that they will work together as a single mirror. This revolutionary technology was developed for the 10-meter mirrors in the two Keck telescopes in Hawaii.

The TMT will not only be the largest optical-infrared telescope in the world, but it will also be at the forefront of technology in virtually every aspect of its design. Adaptive optics (AO) will allow the TMT to achieve a resolution superior to that of the Hubble Space Telescope.

The TMT AO system will use six laser beams to create six luminous spots in a layer of sodium atoms high in Earth's upper atmosphere. These bright artificial stars serve as references for measuring the turbulence in the atmosphere, allowing the AO system to compensate for blurring of starlight by Earth's fluctuating atmosphere. This technology was pioneered at the Lick Observatory 3-meter telescope and has been developed further at the Palomar 5-meter and Keck 10-meter telescopes.

TMT is a collaboration between Caltech, UC, and ACURA, with significant work being done by industry and by university teams studying instrument designs. The project office is in Pasadena, California.

The Foundation has already granted $50 million in support of a $79 million design-development phase that has been under way since April 2004. ACURA and the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy also contributed to the design-development phase.

More information is available on the TMT project's web site.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, established in 2000, seeks to advance environmental conservation and cutting-edge scientific research around the world and to improve the quality of life in the San Francisco Bay Area. For more information, visit the foundation's web site.

The Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy is an organization of Canadian universities dedicated to the advancement of research and teaching in astronomy and astrophysics in Canada. It assists in coordinating large-scale national initiatives of its member institutions, advocates for the priorities in the Long Range Plan for Astronomy, and is a liaison between Canadian member universities and international partners in international and world observatories. For more news and information about ACURA, visit the association's web site.

Additional Media Contacts:

Jill Perry, Caltech

(626) 395-3226



Greg Nelson, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

(415) 561-7427