Since 1999, a team of Japanese scientists funded by the Japanese government is working on a project that will create the largest infrared telescope in the world, the Tokyo Atacama Observatory (TAO).
The head of the Kiso Observatory of the University of Tokyo, Mamoru Doi, explained that Chile has great advantages for installing this antenna of 6.5 meters diameter on the Chajnantor hill (Antofagasta Region) over 5000 meters high, even higher than the ALMA radio telescopes megaproject.
“We have being doing technical studies for several years, thus we know that this is a very appropriate astronomical site. The clarity of the sky in the area is highly favorable, the arid condition of the Chajnantor hill, the climate, the lack of water vapor and its height”, he said during a visit to Santiago, in a seminar about the project at the Universidad Andrés Bello.
TAO’s main attraction is the technology being used for its construction. As an infrared telescope, cutting-edge materials should be used because of the temperatures it must withstand and the image resolution needed for its operation. Currently, the best technological and financial options for its construction – which is expected to be completed in 2016 – are being evaluated.
According to the Japanese scientist the telescope will allow us, among other things, to detect and show the characteristics of very distant galaxies, to observe stars of low luminosity and study the elusive dark matter. Chilean scientists will have access to 10% of the observation time, which ensures a privileged position in future discoveries.
As a preview of the TAO, a few months ago the group of Asian scientists completed the miniTAO, a prototype with similar characteristics to the original project: it is a meter in diameter, operates using infrared and will be operational starting from October.