Blame Canada

Americans have blamed Canada for a lot of things in recent years, and not always legitimately.

Unfairly subsidizing its foresters with cheap Crown land. The blackout of 2003. The rise of potty-mouth humour. Americans have blamed Canada for a lot of things in recent years, and not always legitimately, either. But now they can add to the list Pluto's disappearance as a planet –after researchers using a Canadian-made telescope discovered a far-flung lump similar to Pluto, fetchingly called Xena. The ensuing debate on Xena's status rendered both it and Pluto dwarf planets.

“As telescopes get bigger and we begin to find other solar systems out there, or systems that people are going to claim are solar systems, we need to have proper definitions,” says David Halliday. Halliday should know: he's vice-president of technology provider AMEC's Port Coquitlam, B.C., branch, which made the Keck telescope used to find Xena.

We will be seeing more astral bodies soon enough. AMEC, in partnership with several research groups in Canada and the U.S., is planning a telescope the size of a football field, scheduled to be operational by 2015. The primary mirror of the TMT–or Thirty-Metre Telescope–will be made up of 780 hexagonal sections of glass, and the entire structure will be housed in a 4,000-ton, environmentally controlled enclosure. The whole thing will cost roughly $1 billion, with the Canadian component topping $100 million.

So what's the result? “With the biggest telescope on earth now we can see fuzzy images in the distance and hypothesize about what's out there,” Halliday says. “This particular telescope will bring greater clarity to what we think we see out there.” That includes the dark matter and dark energy that makes up 95% of the universe–clearing up that final frontier once and for all.