What will the Thirty Meter Telescope be able to see?

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) will be one of the major scientific instruments of the coming decades and it continues its path towards construction.  Once completed (hopefully in 2022!), it will collect nine times more light than the next largest facility on Earth, and boast twelve times the sharpness of the Hubble Space Telescope.  In essence, TMT and other next generation telescopes will unlock a whole new era of astronomy.  What will it usher in?

TMT will study the first stars

Less than half a million years after the Big Bang, the Universe had cooled to the point where neutral hydrogen could form.  This gas clumped up and began forming the earliest stars.  These stars quickly began turning hydrogen into helium, carbon, oxygen, and the other elements abundant in the cosmos today.  But what did these first stars look like?  How similar to our Sun was this first generation?  Due to the expansion of space, the light from these first stars can still reach us, more than 13.5 billion years later.  But, it's faint.  So faint that we'll need this new generation of telescope to see it.

TMT will probe the formation of the Cosmic Web

As the first stars formed, they, too, clumped together.  This was the birth of the first galaxies.  As these galaxies came together, gravity twisted them into long chains to form what astronomers now call the Cosmic Web.  We believe the mysterious dark matter was integral to this process, but we've only begun to understand how it is distributed throughout the cosmos. By observing how early galaxies were arranged, TMT will shed light on the physics of the early universe and the role dark matter played therein.

TMT will trace the co-evolution of supermassive black holes and galaxies

Recent evidence suggests that nearly every nearby galaxy hosts a giant black hole at its center.  In fact, black holes may form the nuclei around which early galaxy formation could occur.  Using its unprecedented view, TMT will be able to study whether supermassive black holes grow alongside their host galaxies.

TMT will test the limits of General Relativity

Einstein's general theory of relativity describes how physics behaves in the presence of large amounts of matter.  Nowhere in the Universe is there more matter more tightly packed than in a black hole.  By zooming in to the very edges of these objects, TMT will be able to confirm whether or not Einstein's description still works.  So far, the theory has passed every test, but we must continue to evaluate it at even greater extremes.

TMT will search for habitable worlds

From the ground and from space, we're discovering planets around nearby stars at an astonishing pace.  More and more of these planets are rocky like the Earth.  But, do they contain the compounds needed for life?  By searching the atmospheres of these planets for the chemical signatures of these ingredients, TMT will help us characterize how many habitable worlds might be out there.

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