UVic Torch -- Spring 2009
Autumn 2009,
Volume 30, Number 2

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Skyward: The proposed Thirty Metre Telescope.
By Greg Pratt
Photography by Luc Simard/Vivid


THE YEAR IS 1609 AND GALILEO GALILEI WANTS A BIGGER TELESCOPE. So the Italian astronomer creates something strong enough to see mountains on the Moon, the four satellites of Jupiter and newly observed stars.

Cut to today: the International Year of Astronomy, celebrating the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first scientific use of the telescope. What better time to build on Galileo’s accomplishments, with designs on the biggest telescope the world’s ever seen?

Which is exactly what’s promised by the Thirty Metre Telescope project, or “TMT”, an international effort led by the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy, the California Institute of Technology and the University of California.
TMT — expected to be the most capable and advance telescope when it opens at Mauna Kea, Hawaii in 2018 — will let astronomers detect and study light from the earliest stars and galaxies, analyze planets around nearby stars, and test many of the fundamental laws of physics.

And the project includes a local flavour.

Mechanical Engineering Prof. Colin Bradley is working on the adaptive optics systems which will correct for the distortion caused by turbulence in the earth’s atmosphere. Astronomy alumnus Luc Simard, PhD ’96, based at the Herzberg observatory in Saanich, leads Canada’s role in developing TMT’s scientific instruments.

TMT’s primary mirror will have 492 segments that Bradley says will “basically change shape in real time to compensate for the changing effect of the atmosphere above the telescope.” This summer, Bradley received a $2.4-million grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation for an adaptive optics test bed.

“In terms of the engineering, this is an extremely complicated system. Canada is a world leader in this kind of work,” says Bradley. “The Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, who we collaborate with, is generally regarded as one of the top institutes in the world for undertaking this kind of work.”

“It’s been a tremendous amount of work and there’s still a lot of work that remains but it’s quite exciting and the team is excellent,” says Simard. “Astronomers are already thinking about detailed observations they want to do with this telescope.”

Join Luc Simard, PhD ’96, for a special lecture on galaxies and the Thirty Meter Telescope, during Alumni Week 2010, on February 1 on campus.

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