In DepthAstronomy

Rival giant telescopes join to seek U.S. funding

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Science  25 May 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6391, pp. 839-840
DOI: 10.1126/science.360.6391.839

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Two U.S.-led giant telescope projects, rivals for nearly 2 decades, announced this week that they have agreed to join forces. The Giant Magellan Telescope, a 25-meter telescope under construction in Chile, and the Thirty Meter Telescope, which backers hope to build atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii, are still short of partners and money. They will now work together to win funding from the National Science Foundation, which could help the projects catch up to a third giant telescope, the 39-meter European Extremely Large Telescope, due to begin operations in 2024. It is a historic peace accord to end a conflict that has divided funders and delayed both projects. The partnership commits the two projects to developing a joint plan that would allow astronomers from any institution to use the telescopes; under previous plans observing time was available only to researchers from nations or institutions that had provided funding. The projects are discussing awarding at least 25% of each telescope's time to nonpartners through a competitive process to be administered by the National Center for Optical-Infrared Astronomy—an umbrella organization that will replace the National Optical Astronomy Observatory sometime in fiscal year 2019. Telescope backers hope the public access plan will help persuade the federal government to pay for at least 25% of the total cost of the two facilities, a share that could reach $1 billion.

  • * With additional reporting by Jeffrey Mervis.