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China, India come together for world's largest telescope

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An artist's interpretation of the TMT dome. A www.tmt.org photo

HONOLULU (AP): China and India have catapulted to the forefront of astronomy research with their decision to join as partners in building a Hawaii telescope, which will be the world's largest.

China and India will pay a share of the construction cost, expected to top USD 1 billion, for the telescope at the summit of Mauna Kea volcano. They will also have a share of the observation time.

"This will represent a quantum leap for the Chinese community," Shude Mao, professor of astrophysics at National Astronomical Observatories of China, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday from Waikoloa on the Big Island, where he was attending a meeting of the telescope's scientific advisory committee.

The Thirty Meter Telescope's segmented primary mirror, which will be nearly 100 feet or 30 meters long, will give it nine times the light-collecting area of the largest optical telescopes in use today. Its images will also be three times sharper.

G C Anupama, professor at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, said the largest telescope in India has a 2-meter (6.5-feet) mirror, though India is currently building one that will be 4 meters (13 feet).

"So it's a huge jump for us from 4-meter to 30-meter," Anupama said in a telephone interview on the sidelines of the advisory committee's meeting. "It definitely will take Indian astronomy to greater heights."

The telescope, known as TMT, will be able to observe planets that orbit stars other than the Sun and enable astronomers to watch new planets and stars being formed.

The University of California system, the California Institute of Technology and the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy founded the telescope, which is expected to be finished by 2018.

China joined as an observer in 2009, followed by India the next year. Both are now partners, with representatives on the TMT board. Japan, which has its own large telescope at Mauna Kea, the 8.3-meter Subaru, is also a partner.

TMT may not hold the title of world's largest for long, however, as a partnership of European countries plans to build the European Extremely Large Telescope, which would have a 42-meter, or 138-foot, mirror.

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