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New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics
doubling funding scenario, some funding could be available by the last few years of the decade; in the flat budget scenario, few if any operations funds would be available in this decade.
However, the GSMT projects are at a pivotal point where some form of commitment from the U.S. government at this time will encourage additional collaboration and is crucial to having the projects go forward at all. Owing to the highly compelling science case for this class of telescope, the committee recommends immediate selection by NSF of one of the two U.S.-led GSMT projects for a future federal investment that will secure a significant public partnership role in the development, the operation, and telescope access. This action should facilitate access to and optimize the benefit of the largest ground-based telescopes for the entire U.S. community, by leveraging the significant private and international investments in this frontier endeavor. The committee further recommends as a goal that access should be sought at the level of at least a 25 percent share. This share could be secured through whatever combination of construction (that is, MREFC), operating funds, and instrumentation support is most favorable.
The committee believes that access to a GSMT will, as opportunities opened by large telescopes have in the past, transform U.S. astronomy by means of its broad and powerful scientific reach, and that federal investment in a GSMT is vital for the United States to be competitive in ground-based optical astronomy over the next two decades. These are the main reasons for its strong recommendation by the survey. The third-place ranking reflects the committee’s charge, which required the prioritization to be informed not only by scientific potential but also by the technical readiness of the components and the system, the sources of risk, and the appraisal of the costs. LSST and several of the concatenation of candidates for the Mid-Scale Innovations Program were deemed to be ahead of GSMT in these areas.
Priority 4 (Large, Ground). Participation in an AtmosphericČerenkov TelescopeArray (ACTA)
The last decade has seen the coming of age of very high energy (TeV) astronomy. Very high energy gamma-ray photons are observed from cosmic sources through the flashes of Čerenkov light that they create in Earth’s atmosphere. These events can be observed by large telescopes on the ground on moonless and cloudless nights, and the directions and the energies of individual photons measured. After a long U.S.-led period of development of this technique which yielded the discovery of a handful of sources, the field has taken off. The European facilities, HESS in Namibia and MAGIC in the Canary Islands, together, now, with the U.S. facility VERITAS in Arizona, have discovered 100 sources. These include active galactic nuclei, pulsars, supernova remnants, and binary stars. Astrophysicists have learned much about particle acceleration and can now rule out some models of