India Joins Mega-Telescope as Astronomy Battle Heats Up

For some time now, the teams behind two rival megaprojects—the $1 billion Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), led by the University of California, and the $700 million 24-meter Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), led by Carnegie Observatories—have been wooing prospective partners overseas to help secure the funding needed to build each of the behemoths. Last week, the TMT collaboration scored a victory in that competition for partnerships by getting India to come on board.

The Indian government will enter the collaboration as an "observer," which means that it will participate in the project without committing any funds—at least for now. But TMT officials hope that a funding commitment will come soon.

"As an observer, we can now begin exploring the specific areas where India can contribute to the project and look forward to their becoming a full partner with a formal agreement and commitment for funding," says Edward Stone, vice chair of the TMT board and a physics professor at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena.

India's participation is a coup for TMT, which last year got China on board as an observer and has secured funding commitments from Japan and Canada in addition to a $200 million pledge from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and a $100 million commitment from the University of California and Caltech. The GMT project, meanwhile, has raised over $200 million, including $80 million from the Carnegie Institution of Science and pledges of funding from Australia and South Korea.

Both projects are also hoping for future funding from the National Science Foundation. If everything goes to plan, TMT will be built atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii by 2018; GMT is to be built on Las Campanas in Chile by 2019.