Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation awards $17.5 million for Thirty-Meter Telescope plans

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation awarded $17.5 million to the University of California for collaboration with the California Institute of Technology on a project intended to build the world's most powerful telescope. Coupled with an award by the Foundation to Caltech for the same amount, a total of $35 million is now available for the two institutions to collaborate on this visionary project to build the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). Their next step will be to work together to formulate detailed design plans for the telescope.

A 30-meter-diameter optical and infrared telescope, complete with adaptive optics, would result in images more than 12 times sharper than those of the Hubble Space Telescope. The TMT will have nine times the light-gathering ability of one of the 10-meter Keck Telescopes, which are currently the largest in the world. With such a telescope, astrophysicists will be able to study the earliest galaxies and the details of their formation as well as pinpoint the processes that lead to young planetary systems around nearby stars.

"We are very pleased that the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has recognized the strengths of the University of California and Caltech to carry out such an important project," said UC President Robert C. Dynes. "The giant telescope will help our astronomy faculty stay at the very forefront of that dynamic field of science."

"The University of California and Caltech will work in close and constant collaboration to achieve the goals of the design effort," said Joseph Miller, director of UC Observatories/Lick Observatory, headquartered at UC Santa Cruz. "We've also entered into collaborations with the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy, both of whom are in the process of seeking major funding."

According to Richard Ellis, director of Caltech Optical Observatories and Steele Professor of Astronomy at Caltech, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation's award will provide the crucial funding needed to address the major areas of risk in this large project.

"This next phase is of central importance, because in the course of carrying it out, we will establish the fundamental technologies and methods necessary for the building of the telescope," Ellis said.

Miller and Ellis agree that the TMT is a natural project for UC and Caltech to undertake jointly, given their decades of experience as collaborators in constructing, operating, and conducting science with the world's largest telescopes at the Keck Observatory. The TMT design is a natural evolution of the Keck Telescope design, and many of the same UC and Caltech scientists involved in the creation of the Keck Observatory are deeply involved in the TMT project.

Following the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation-funded design study, the final phase of the project, not yet funded, will be construction of the observatory at an as yet undetermined site. The end of this phase would mark the beginning of regular astronomical observations, perhaps by 2012.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation was established in November 2000, by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore and his wife Betty. The Foundation funds outcome-based projects that will measurably improve the quality of life by creating positive outcomes for future generations. Grantmaking is concentrated in initiatives that support the Foundation's principal areas of concern: environmental conservation, science, higher education, and the San Francisco Bay Area.


Note to reporters: You may contact Joseph Miller at (831) 459-2991 or miller@ucolick.org.