Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based
Optical and Infrared Astronomy System
Committee on a Strategy to Optimize the U.S. Optical and Infrared System
in the Era of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST)
Board on Physics and Astronomy
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
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NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
This study was supported by the National Science Foundation under Award No. AST-1411382. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies that provided support for the project.
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Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine
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COMMITTEE ON A STRATEGY TO OPTIMIZE THE U.S. OPTICAL AND INFRARED SYSTEM IN THE ERA OF THE LARGE SYNOPTIC SURVEY TELESCOPE (LSST)
DEBRA MELOY ELMEGREEN, Vassar College, Chair
TODD BOROSON, Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network
DEBRA FISCHER, Yale University
JOSHUA FRIEMAN, University of Chicago and Fermilab
LYNNE HILLENBRAND, California Institute of Technology
BUELL JANNUZI, University of Arizona and Steward Observatory
ROBERT KIRSHNER, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
LORI LUBIN, University of California, Davis
ROBERT LUPTON, Princeton University
PAUL SCHECHTER, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
PAUL VANDEN BOUT, National Radio Astronomy Observatory
J. CRAIG WHEELER, University of Texas, Austin
Consultant to the Committee
JOEL PARRIOTT, American Astronomical Society
DAVID B. LANG, Board on Physics and Astronomy, Study Director
JAMES C. LANCASTER, Director, Board on Physics and Astronomy
MICHAEL H. MOLONEY, Director, Space Studies Board
LINDA WALKER, Program Coordinator, Board on Physics and Astronomy
KATIE DAUD, Research Associate, Space Studies Board
BOARD ON PHYSICS AND ASTRONOMY
MICHAEL S. WITHERELL, University of California, Santa Barbara, Chair
CHARLES L. BENNETT, Johns Hopkins University, Vice Chair
RICCARDO BETTI, University of Rochester
TODD DITMIRE, University of Texas, Austin
NATHANIEL J. FISCH, Princeton University
PAUL FLEURY, Yale University
GERALD GABRIELSE, Harvard University
JACQUELINE N. HEWITT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
BARBARA V. JACAK, Stony Brook University
BARBARA JONES, IBM Almaden Research Center
HERBERT LEVINE, Rice University
ABRAHAM (AVI) LOEB, Harvard University
MONICA OLVERA DE LA CRUZ, Northwestern University
PAUL SCHECHTER, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
JAMES C. LANCASTER, Director
DAVID B. LANG, Senior Program Officer
LINDA WALKER, Program Coordinator
BETH DOLAN, Financial Associate
Ground-based optical and infrared astronomy in the United States has a long record of world-leading achievement. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) and Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), both now part of the National Optical Astronomical Observatory (NOAO), were formed to build and operate telescopes that would provide public access to world-class facilities. These complemented the private telescopes of a handful of universities and research institutes, such as the 200-inch Hale telescope at Palomar Observatory, dedicated in 1948. In recent decades, new and more powerful public and private telescopes and instruments have been built. As these facilities have become larger and more sophisticated, they have become more expensive to build and operate, and this trend is expected to continue. These developments have led to partnerships among and between public, private, and international parties. The initial concept for an integrated U.S. Optical and Infrared (OIR) System to enable public access to public and private telescopes and instruments stems from the 1995 National Research Council (NRC) report A Strategy for Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy1 (hereafter the McCray report). That report stressed the need for an efficient infrastructure for OIR astronomy with a range of apertures and capabilities. The first use of the term “OIR System” dates to the 2001 NRC decadal
NOTE: Acronyms, especially those denoting individual instruments and missions, are defined in Appendix C.
1 National Research Council (NRC), 1995, A Strategy for Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.
survey, Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium2 (AANM). Today’s expanded vision of a U.S. OIR System also includes public access to data archives, especially from large surveys. In AANM and throughout this report, the term “OIR System” refers to ground-based optical and infrared astronomical facilities and resources.
Federal investment in astronomy is driven by the science priorities established in the consensus reports of the NRC decadal surveys. The astronomy and astrophysics decadal surveys are forward-looking reports that focus on proposing new facilities to realize the priorities they establish. They do not consider the relative merits of the proposed facilities versus the existing or under-construction facilities. To address this aspect, the AANM decadal survey report led to a 2006 Senior Review Committee to balance support for the current activities of the National Science Foundation (NSF) against the desire to fund new ones. Similarly, the 2010 New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics3 (NWNH) decadal survey report recommended that the NSF Division of Astronomical Sciences (AST) hold an internal review to determine which facilities might be divested in order to enable support for new facilities and science analysis. Subsequently, NSF AST formed the Portfolio Review Committee (PRC) to make recommendations considering its grants program, its current and future telescope suite, and any potential for divestment. Its 2012 report is Advancing Astronomy in the Coming Decade: Opportunities and Challenges.4
In its 2013 annual report,5 the Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee (AAAC) recommended that NSF AST request “a report led by the NRC’s Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics (CAA) to help define a revised national OIR system, with a focus on the required instruments, telescopes, and public access to enable both the best science and broadest community participation in the LSST [Large Synoptic Survey Telescope] era.”6 The details of such a study were discussed within the CAA, which is a joint standing committee of the NRC Board on Physics and Astronomy (BPA) and the Space Studies Board (SSB). NSF AST subsequently sponsored the current study through the BPA and
2 NRC, 2000, Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
3 NRC, 2010, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
4 National Science Foundation (NSF), 2012, Advancing Astronomy in the Coming Decade: Opportunities and Challenges. Report of the National Science Foundation Division of Astronomical Sciences Portfolio Review Committee, http://www.nsf.gov/mps/ast/portfolioreview/reports/ast_portfolio_review_report.pdf.
5 NSF, 2013, Report of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee, http://www.nsf.gov/mps/ast/aaac/reports/annual/aaac_2013_130308finalreport.pdf.
6 NSF, 2013, Report of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee, p. 13.
SSB to make strategic recommendations for optimizing nighttime (non-solar) ground-based optical and infrared astronomy, considering the PRC recommendations and the decadal report priorities. Discussions between NSF, NRC, and CAA led to the following charge:
Statement of Task
In order to position the observational, instrumentation, data management, and support capabilities of the U.S. optical and infrared (O/IR) astronomy system to best address the science objectives identified in the 2010 report entitled New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics and Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022 and to help achieve the best science return from the National Science Foundation investment in O/IR astronomy over the next 10-15 years, the National Research Council will convene a committee to write a short report that will recommend and prioritize adjustments to the U.S. ground-based O/IR system that will better position the system to address the New Worlds, New Horizons science objectives over the next 10-15 years. The committee will consider needs and strategies for several interrelated components of the system: existing and planned focal plane instrumentation; focal plane instrumentation and technology development; and data management, processing, mining, and archiving. The committee may make recommendations or offer comments on organizational structure, program balance, and funding, with discussion of the evidentiary bases, as appropriate.
The Committee on a Strategy to Optimize the U.S. Optical and Infrared System in the Era of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope7 was formulated to include a range of expertise and geographic and institutional diversity. The committee met three times in person: at the Keck Center of the National Academies in Washington, D.C., on July 31-August 1 and December 2-3, 2014, and at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center in Irvine, California, on October 12-13, 2014. Approximately 20 conference calls were held between July 2014 and January 2015. Since community input was an important component of the study, short white papers8 were solicited to respond to any topic related to the charge of optimizing the U.S. OIR System for the best science return or to answer any of 10 general questions. The committee received 39 white papers from a total of 318 coauthors, plus 4 general comments. The responses primarily addressed LSST follow-up; the OIR System; instrumentation, including software; and data. There were also collective comments from 22 instrumentalists on topics related to instrumentation. At the committee’s in-person meetings, there were presentations by and discussions with NSF, OSTP, NASA, ESO, NRAO, AURA, observatory directors, data and archive specialists, and adaptive optics specialists during sessions open to the public. The current study draws from the scientific priorities and the conclusions and recommendations of both NWNH and the 2011
7 The name of the committee reflects the name of the study as proposed to NSF and agreed upon by NSF, NRC, and CAA.
8 The solicitation letter is shown in Appendix A, along with titles and authors of the white papers.
NRC planetary science decadal survey Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-20229 (VVPS) as well as the NSF PRC report,10 along with information contained in the McCray report,11 the NOAO System Roadmap,12 the LSST Science Book,13 and similar reports. Solar and space physics optimization strategies are beyond the purview of this committee and were not addressed in this report.
NWNH had extensive coverage of OIR science and instrumentation, whereas the VVPS focus was primarily on space-based missions. VVPS highlighted LSST as important for solar system studies of near-Earth objects, Kuiper Belt objects, and comets, and noted that NASA access to the Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) and W.M. Keck Observatory as well as access to Keck, Magellan, and MMT (formerly the Multiple Mirror Telescope) through the Telescope System Instrumentation Program (TSIP), enabled critical observations for planetary studies, partly to support space-based planetary missions. VVPS supported the recommendations and priorities of NWNH regarding LSST and future giant telescopes.
Through discussions with NSF AST officers, the committee interpreted the charge in the context of the statement of task as well as the report title that was given in the NSF project prospectus. Thus, LSST was taken to be one of the central components of the study, and the report was to include all other elements of ground-based OIR astronomy in the United States as well. The “LSST era” was interpreted to emphasize the democratization of cutting-edge astronomy that will be enabled through massive surveys made available in an accessible format to the entire U.S. professional astronomical community, as well as the collaborative and synergistic efforts needed with giant (TMT, GMT) telescopes and with the rest of the OIR System. The committee was also explicitly asked by NSF to consider whether the Southern Astrophysical Research (SOAR) telescope might have a future role for follow-up observations. The committee limited the inventory of U.S. OIR facilities to telescopes with apertures 2 meters or larger in order to be complete at this level, although in several places the importance of telescopes smaller than this is noted. NSF asked the committee to consider any science advantages in coordinating federal telescopes but instructed that such coordination should not involve a discussion of the current management or possible efficiencies through merged management. For all topics, the discussion was to be centered on science drivers.
9 NRC, 2011, Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
10 NSF, 2012, Advancing Astronomy in the Coming Decade.
11 NRC, 1995, A Strategy for Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy.
12 National Optical Astronomy Observatory, 2012, Ground-based O/IR System Roadmap Committee Community Survey Summary of Results from U.S. Based/Sponsored Respondents, http://ast.noao.edu/sites/default/files/SummaryDocumentSystemRoadmapCommunitySurveyV1.5.pdf.
The guidelines given by NSF regarding funding were that the current era is one of essentially flat budgets and that the committee was not to work with a budget (although comments on the new Mid-Scale Innovations Program (MSIP) were invited). Therefore, detailed cost estimates are not part of this report, and methods to provide funding for specific recommendations are not given. However, the committee was cognizant of the fact that very costly recommendations would not be actionable, and an approximate total figure for the recommendations is given in the Epilogue. Program balance was interpreted in the context of maintaining instrumentation and technology development, small through large facilities, and expertise needed to accomplish the decadal science objectives. The committee was explicitly instructed by NSF not to discuss the astronomy and astrophysics grants program. Space-based missions and non-OIR ground-based facilities are discussed in the report in the context of synergies with ground-based OIR observations, but optimization is considered only for the OIR operations, as per the charge to the committee.
The committee followed NRC style such that conclusions should be at a high level rather than summarizing every section and that recommendations should be restricted to a few high-level items. The committee conclusions are based on material cited in the report, and the recommendations are directed toward NSF as the study sponsor.
It is a pleasure to acknowledge the many individuals and organizations that have assisted in producing this report. We thank James Ulvestad, Vernon Pankonin, and Patricia Knezek from NSF AST for inviting and sponsoring this study and for their helpful overview of the AST Division and discussions related to the statement of task. We appreciate the observatory directors, agency representatives, and other astronomers who, at our request, made formal presentations at in-person meetings in Washington, D.C., and in Irvine, California, to help inform the committee’s deliberations,14 and thank the observatory personnel who supplied the requested demographic information (Appendix B) and technical information (Table 3.2) listed in this report. We are grateful to the community for input in the form of white papers, comments, and helpful answers to questions we posed. We acknowledge the careful work of the reviewers, the Report Monitor Robert Sproull and the Report Coordinator Martha Haynes, in helping to improve the report. Finally, we recognize and applaud the support and dedication of NRC staff, including program officer David Lang, who was our study director, James Lancaster, director of the Board on Physics and Astronomy, Michael Moloney, director of the Space Studies Board, program coordinator Linda Walker, research associate Katie Daud, reports officer
Elizabeth Panos, and the Report Review Committee staff Janice Mehler. I am very grateful to my colleagues on this committee (listed on p. v of this report), who served with wisdom, diligence, and good humor.
Debra Meloy Elmegreen, Chair
Committee on a Strategy to Optimize the
U.S. Optical and Infrared System in the Era of the
Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST)
Acknowledgment of Reviewers
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Research Council’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report:
Roger Blandford, Stanford University,
Daniel Eisenstein, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics,
Sandra Faber, University of California, Santa Cruz,
Eileen Friel, Indiana University,
Günther Hasinger, University of Hawaii,
Suzanne Hawley, University of Washington,
George Helou, California Institute of Technology,
William Herbst, Wesleyan University,
George Rieke, University of Arizona,
Beth Willman, Haverford College, and
Charles Woodward, University of Minnesota.
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations, nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Robert F. Sproull, Oracle, and Martha P. Haynes, Cornell University. Appointed by the National Research Council, they were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.