Japan Suspends its Funding for the 30-Meter Telescope

Japan has suspended its funding contribution to the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) in Hawaii. An international consortium is behind the TMT, which was proposed for the summit of Mauna Kea. Mauna Kea is one of the most desirable observing locations on Earth. It’s already host to several observatories, including the Subaru Telescope and the Keck Observatory. The $1.4 billion TMT would be the most powerful telescope there.

The TMT is one of the new class of telescopes called Extremely Large Telescopes (ELT). Telescope mirrors are limited in size because they can become so heavy they warp. Currently, the largest telescope mirror in the world belongs to the Gran Telescopio Canarias(GTC). But a new class of telescopes using segmented mirrors are breaking new ground in mirror sizes. The TMT will have a 30 meter primary mirror in 492 segments, making it much more powerful than the GTC.

But the construction of the TMT is facing opposition. Native Hawaiian Islanders regard the summit of Mauna Kea as a sacred location, and they’re fighting hard to have the project cancelled. As of now, the future of the project is uncertain, and this led to Japan’s funding suspension.

According to reports, Japan hasn’t dropped out of the TMT completely. Their role was to supply components for the super-telescope, and it appears that the country still supports the project. But in December, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim announced a two-month moratorium on construction of the TMT, which likely played into Japan’s decision.

In a statement, Tomonori Usuda, TMT Japan project manager with the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, said “We need to slow down the development activities in Japan for the fiscal year.”

It’s not clear how much funding is affected. Japan is building mirror segments for the TMT’s primary mirror, and according to Japan’s national broadcaster NHK, 200 mirror segments will be affected.

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