Japan suspends funding to TMT

The Japanese government has confirmed that it has suspended payment of its annual contribution to the budget of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) because of the project’s inability to begin construction on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

Japanese astronomers strongly prefer placing TMT on Mauna Kea because it is relatively close to Japan, unlike the proposed replacement site in the Grand Canary Islands in the Atlantic.

I would say this is the next nail in the coffin for TMT in Hawaii. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has money to fund construction of a big telescope for U.S. astronomers, but has not been able to decide on whether to give the money to TMT, or to the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), already under construction in Chile, or to both.

Astronomers have been lobbying for dual funding, using the argument that the two telescopes are in the opposite north and south hemispheres. Moving TMT to the Grand Canaries, at a higher latitude than Hawaii, strengthens this argument. With the apparent exit of Japan it could be that the way is now cleared to give up on Hawaii and for TMT to make the move to a more welcoming site.

Hawaii’s protesters, supported by the state’s Democratically-controlled government, will of course celebrate. What they will be celebrating however will be the death-knell of science in Hawaii.