The board of directors for the 24.5-metre Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) to be built in Chile has decided to avoid going toe-to-toe with the rival Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) in a competition sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
The board of the GMT, meeting in Chicago last week, has decided to opt out of the competition, according to a press release from the organization. “After careful consideration, the GMT Board has chosen not to pursue this solicitation, but to develop our own program for cultivating partnerships within the US community and with our international partners,” said Wendy Freedman, the GMT board chair, in a letter to NSF astronomy director James Ulvestad, according to the release.
With just US$1.25 million available to the winner, the NSF competition was less about money and more about prestige. The NSF has been adamant that it has no significant money to support either project until the early part of next decade. But the TMT, which will still respond to the NSF’s solicitation, believed that a competition would at least demonstrate the NSF’s intention to eventually support one project — and that the winner would have an easier time attracting international partners.
But the GMT says it can go it alone, at least for now. On 23 March, the group began blasting at its mountaintop site in Chile. And they say they are nearly halfway towards raising the $700 million they need to complete construction.
The acrimony between the two projects goes back years. And it’s not the first time the GMT has thrown a wrench into processes it doesn’t support. Back in 2005, the GMT board wrote a letter to AURA, an organization that operates NSF telescopes, complaining that federal funds were supporting work on designs for the TMT, but not the GMT. They accused AURA of having “picked the winner” already.
Now the question will be: how can the NSF pick a winner if it can’t get more than one team to compete?
Image credit: GMTO