deep division among Chinese astronomers over the design of a proposed 12-meter telescope broke into public view this week as statements from competing camps went viral on social media.
The dispute centers on whether to adopt a technically ambitious four-mirror design proposed by optical engineers or a conventional three-mirror option favored by astronomers. The stakes are high. It will be China’s largest optical telescope and serve as the workhorse observational facility for several generations.
In a 4 August letter to the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Jiansheng Chen, an astronomer at Peking University in Beijing, notes that currently the largest Chinese-built scopes are a 2.16-meter general purpose instrument and the 4-meter Large Sky Area Multi-Object Fiber Spectroscopic Telescope (LAMOST) that is dedicated to surveys. LAMOST “is not very successful,” he adds, noting that its performance doesn’t match that of the 2.5-meter Sloan Digital Sky Survey telescope at Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico. “You can imagine how much risk there is in leaping from this foundation to 12 meters!” Chen writes in the letter that was posted on WeChat, a popular Chinese social media platform.