Hearing Update 12/19
As one of the more anticipated witnesses to testify at the ongoing contested case hearings in Hilo, the head of the Thirty Meter Telescope project took the witness stand today.
TMT executive director Edward Stone travelled from California to testify as an expert witness on the Thirty Meter Telescope project.
Long respected in the astronomy field, Stone joined the Thirty Meter Telescope non-profit corporation in 2004 and served as chairman and vice-chairman until 2014 when he became executive director of the TMT International Observatory (TIO) that was established to carry out the construction and operation of the TMT facility.
The current members of TIO are California Institute of Technology, University of California, Japan, China, Canada and India. Stone used part of his introductory remarks to explain how TMT Corp. evolved into the TIO entity when the global partners joined the TMT project.
Stone has a long history in building and operating telescopes on Maunakea. Prior to joining TMT, Stone served as chair of the board of directors for the California Association for Research in Astronomy, which is responsible for building and operating the Keck Observatory with its two ten-meter telescopes on Maunakea.
Stone was also project scientist for the unmanned Voyager spacecraft missions to the outer solar system, where he became a major spokesman for the Voyager science team during the 1980s.
During his testimony, Stone reiterated his stance that Maunakea is the optimal site to study the stars in the Northern Hemisphere.
“We do have a plan B to build in the Canary Islands (as an alternate location), but Maunakea in Hawaii remains our preferred site if a permit can be acquired to begin construction in April 2018,” Stone testified. “Hawaii remains our goal at this time for TMT.”
Stone said the TMT project’s primary purpose is to provide a much more advanced and powerful ground-based observatory than currently exists, one that will enable discoveries about the nature and origins of the physical world, from the first formation of galaxies in the distant past and remote regions of the Universe to the formation of planets and planetary systems today in our Milky Way Galaxy.
“Understanding the subsequent evolution of galaxies from this early time to the current era is another major research area for which the TMT observatory will provide a giant step forward,” Stone said in his testimony.
But to achieve that, “you need a larger telescope to collect a lot of light,” he noted during cross-examination. “It’s too dim for even Keck (Observatory) to observe the stars in some parts of the universe. This is why we hope to build a 30-meter telescope.”
Stone pointed out that it would be physically impossible to launch and operate a telescope similar in size into space. “So, it needs to be a ground-based telescope.”
Along with the scientific benefits, Stone briefly touched on the potential socioeconomic benefits related to employment and education by bringing the TMT project to Hawaii, through opportunities in training, education and jobs in STEM fields.
“The TMT Observatory in Hawaii will not only provide scientists, researchers, and students access to a new telescope with greatly increased power that will provide currently unrivaled opportunities for exciting discoveries, but will highlight Hawaii as an outstanding platform for international collaborations with the largest nations and economies around the Pacific Rim,” he said.
Cross-examination of Stone wrapped up by the end of today’s hearing. Tomorrow is the last hearing for the month before the hearings recess for the holiday season.