The landscape for astronomy today holds much promise, as many decadal survey science priorities are under way or coming to fruition. At the same time, the federal financial outlook is weaker than it was when New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics1 (NWNH) and Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-20222 (VVPS) were completed. There are opportunities to realize greater achievement of science goals through a coordination of federal and non-federal resources, as envisioned in a telescope and data-access exchange program described in Section 6.2. There are also scientific advantages to instituting community-wide ongoing strategic planning (discussed in Section 6.3) for medium- and small-scale initiatives on shorter time scales than a decade, even while the largest projects historically take longer than a decade to complete.
Part of the charge of this committee was to consider the instrumentation, data management, and support capabilities needed in the near term. The report’s conclusions for near-term requirements have been detailed in previous sections, and as mentioned, the recommendations include a wide-field highly multiplexed spectrograph; coordination of telescopes and software and instrument capabilities (such as high-throughput single-object spectrographs on large telescopes) for transient follow-up; and technology development in detectors, adaptive optics (AO),
1 National Research Council (NRC), 2010, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
2 NRC, 2011, Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
and radial velocity. These are the types of activities that the committee envisions would be part of the discussions of future strategic planning by the U.S. Optical and Infrared (OIR) System organizing committee.
The scientific harvest of Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) data will be magnified through coordinated follow-up efforts in software and observing capabilities. Discoveries through the synergies of telescopes spanning a range of capabilities will be better enabled in a revitalized U.S. OIR System in which telescope and data access are better facilitated. Finally, the astronomical enterprise will be enriched by developing and supporting instrumentation and software expertise and technology. The recommendations in this report suggest a federal investment of $10 million to $20 million per year.
For convenience, all conclusions and recommendations presented in the report are collected here in order of presentation.
3.1 Current Telescopes and Instruments in the Optical and Infrared System
CONCLUSION: Interest from and telescope usage by a large, diverse, and active community of high-quality researchers are correlated with high-impact scientific output.
3.3 Future Data Management Needs
CONCLUSION: Consistent with NWNH recommendations and federal mandates, a data archive that is publicly accessible and well curated is a commendable central goal for every major survey from a public or private facility.
CONCLUSION: LSST will accumulate more than 20 TB of data per night during an anticipated 10-year lifetime. The LSST project will generate sophisticated, well-calibrated databases that will enable many projects without further data processing. Generating higher-level data and algorithms is not part of the LSST project charge.
CONCLUSION: LSST will provide a data center to serve alerts, images, and catalogs, with 10 percent of the center’s resources (CPU cycles and database storage) reserved for the community. The data center will be colocated with publicly available petascale computing facilities at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.
CONCLUSION: LSST will use standard protocols to serve data where available (e.g., VOEvent) and will work with the community to evolve and establish future standards.
CONCLUSION: Making effective use of petabyte-scale databases (“big data”) requires new skills, and the astronomical community working in this area needs to continue to develop algorithms and procedures for data processing and analysis to take advantage of the next generation of data sets.
CONCLUSION: The scientific return from large surveys (both ground- and space-based) would be maximized if their data and catalogs were made widely available using standard protocols, with appropriate data products made available for copying or downloading when possible. Because of the volumes of data involved, the centers serving the data would be most useful if appropriate public computing cycles and storage were available to users to take data-intensive analysis to the data instead of requiring redundant copies of the data on local computing resources.
3.4 Training in Observing, Instrumentation, and Software
CONCLUSION: Specialized training in general observing, instrumentation, software, and data analysis techniques is essential for ensuring that the next generation of astronomers has the requisite skills to accomplish the best science.
RECOMMENDATION: The National Science Foundation (NSF) should support a coordinated suite of schools, workshops, and training networks run by experts to train the future generation of astronomers and maintain instrumentation, software, and data analysis expertise. Some of this training might best be planned as a sequence, with later topics building on earlier ones. NSF should use existing instrument and research programs to support training to build instruments.
3.5 Maintaining Instrumentation and Software Expertise
CONCLUSION: Long timescales for complex projects and oversubscription of instrument funding lines discourage early career specialization in instrumentation.
CONCLUSION: NSF Advanced Technologies and Instrumentation and Major Research Instrumentation funding is inadequate to support the rising cost of small- and medium-instrument projects.
CONCLUSION: There is inadequate funding for instrumentation programs. This is largely the result of the increasing cost and complexity of instruments for the next generation of telescopes, with funding gaps between projects. The increased complexity of instruments also requires stronger engineering and project management components than in the past, and it is rare to have this as part of the training in astronomy instrumentation programs.
CONCLUSION: The need to complete complex expensive projects means that less funding is going toward explorative technology development.
4.1 Science-Driven Needs for OIR Instrument Capabilities
CONCLUSION: Because of the diversity of critical astronomical studies in NWNH and VVPS, a variety of instruments, some already available, on large and medium telescopes will be integral to successful progress in understanding the universe in the next decade. These include a wide-field highly multiplexed moderate-resolution optical/near-IR spectrograph, a high-throughput, moderate-resolution spectrograph, a high-resolution integral field unit optical or infrared spectrograph, optical and near-IR imaging with adaptive optics, and extreme precision Doppler spectroscopy and AO coronagraphy.
CONCLUSION: Small- and medium-aperture telescopes are useful for a range of science endeavors that require spectroscopy, spectropolarimetry, narrowband imaging, or a different cadence than LSST.
4.2 Technology Development
CONCLUSION: Science realized today relies on the investments made in the past both on specific telescope and instrument development and more general technology development. Going forward, a similar mix of near-term and intermediate-term efforts is required in order to maintain healthy progress in astronomy.
RECOMMENDATION: The National Science Foundation (NSF) should continue to invest in the development of critical instrument technologies, includ-
ing detectors, adaptive/active optics, and precision radial velocity measurements. NSF should also use existing instrument and research programs to support small-scale exploratory programs that have the potential to develop transformative technologies.
4.3 Importance of the Giant Segmented Mirror Telescopes
CONCLUSION: With their monumental gains in sensitivity and angular resolution, the Giant Segmented Mirror Telescopes (GSMTs) are poised to revolutionize the understanding of key astrophysical phenomena as well as to open new, unexpected frontiers. They are likely to be underfunded once they become operational.
CONCLUSION: The GSMTs will be crucial for detailed follow-up investigations of many discoveries from existing and planned facilities, including the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, Gaia, LSST, the James Webb Space Telescope, Euclid, and the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, and will make major contributions to many of the next decade’s key science questions, including the nature of debris disks, the physics of planet formation, the growth of black holes, and the advent of the first galaxies.
RECOMMENDATION: The National Science Foundation should plan for an investment in one or both Giant Segmented Mirror Telescopes in order to capitalize on these observatories’ exceptional scientific capabilities for the broader astronomical community in the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope era—for example, through shared operations costs, instrument development, or limited partnerships in telescope or data access or science projects.
5.1 Follow-Up Telescope and Instrumentation Needs
CONCLUSION: There is currently no wide-field, highly multiplexed spectroscopic capability on medium- or large-aperture telescopes in the Southern Hemisphere in the U.S. OIR System.
CONCLUSION: Wide-field, highly multiplexed spectroscopic capabilities on medium- and large-aperture telescopes in the Southern Hemisphere in the LSST era would be of great benefit to the U.S. OIR System, enabling a wide variety of science including follow-up spectroscopy of LSST targets.
RECOMMENDATION: The National Science Foundation should support the development of a wide-field, highly multiplexed spectroscopic capability on a medium- or large-aperture telescope in the Southern Hemisphere to enable a wide variety of science, including follow-up spectroscopy of Large Synoptic Survey Telescope targets. Examples of enabled science are studies of cosmology, galaxy evolution, quasars, and the Milky Way.
CONCLUSION: The United States is currently carrying out research and development on Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), a wide-field highly multiplexed spectroscopic instrument for the Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) Mayall 4-meter telescope in the Northern Hemisphere. The planned schedule for DESI calls for operations during 2018-2023, completing soon after LSST operations begin.
CONCLUSION: If the DESI project proceeds as planned, then upon completion of its survey from the KPNO Mayall 4-meter, NSF and the Department of Energy could partner to move DESI to the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory Blanco 4-meter (if technically feasible) early in the era of LSST operations in order to enable southern wide-field spectroscopic surveys.
CONCLUSION: If DESI was moved to the Blanco 4-meter, decadal science priorities in the LSST era could benefit from installing Dark Energy Camera on the Mayall 4-meter and using it to carry out wide and deep multi-band imaging surveys in the north.
5.2 Coordinating Transient Observations in the LSST Era
CONCLUSION: Plans for coordination and communication of transient events are currently inadequate.
CONCLUSION: Coordination is required to maximize the scientific yield from transients in the LSST era. There is a need for dedicated telescopes and instruments, a system of telescopes, and software to respond efficiently to transients.
RECOMMENDATION: The National Science Foundation should help to support the development of event brokers, which should use standard formats and protocols, to maximize Large Synoptic Survey Telescope transient survey follow-up work.
CONCLUSION: It is important for NSF to employ ground-based OIR facilities under its control to maximize the science of transient studies, especially those facilities colocated with LSST.
CONCLUSION: The Southern Astrophysical Research (SOAR) telescope, with its 4-meter aperture, rapid response, and Southern Hemisphere location, could play an important role (with appropriate spectroscopic capabilities) in followup observations of moderate-brightness LSST transients.
CONCLUSION: Gemini South, with its 8-meter aperture, Southern Hemisphere location, flexible scheduling, and near-IR capability, has the capability to carry out rapid spectroscopic follow-up of a broad array of faint transient events that LSST will detect.
CONCLUSION: The OIR System would benefit significantly if Gemini South was instrumented and operated in a mode that would enable it to carry out rapid follow-up, along with other observational programs (including follow-up of faint, static LSST sources).
RECOMMENDATION: The National Science Foundation should work with its partners in Gemini to ensure that Gemini South is well positioned for faint-object spectroscopy early in the era of Large Synoptic Survey Telescope operations—for example, by supporting the construction of a rapidly configurable high-throughput moderate-resolution spectrograph with broad wavelength coverage.
CONCLUSION: The United States has a substantial share of three medium-to large-aperture, open-access facilities in the Southern Hemisphere—Blanco, SOAR, and Gemini South—but they are not operated in a coordinated manner.
CONCLUSION: The U.S. OIR System would benefit if the development of the capabilities of, and the operation of, these three facilities (Blanco, SOAR, and Gemini South) were coordinated to enhance their synergy with LSST.
RECOMMENDATION: The National Science Foundation should ensure via a robustly organized U.S. Optical and Infrared (OIR) System that a fraction of the U.S. OIR System observing time be allocated for rapid, faint transient observations prioritized by a Large Synoptic Survey Telescope event broker system so that high-priority events can be efficiently and rapidly targeted.
RECOMMENDATION: The National Science Foundation should direct its managing organizations to enhance coordination among the federal components of medium- to large-aperture telescopes in the Southern Hemisphere, including Gemini South, Blanco, the Southern Astrophysical Research (SOAR) telescope, and Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), to optimize LSST follow-up for a range of studies.
6.1 Defining the Future System
CONCLUSION: Components of the U.S. OIR System include a wide range of telescope apertures, instruments, and data archives that have been developed and supported in their operations from multiple funding streams.
CONCLUSION: Because of funding constraints, U.S. astronomers are challenged in their pursuit of decadal goals by having access only to a fraction of the capabilities needed.
6.2 Telescope Time Exchange
CONCLUSION: A telescope time exchange would broaden the suite of capabilities available to U.S. astronomers and would foster the complementarity of capabilities developed by different elements of the U.S. OIR System. These benefits would enable more of the goals of the decadal surveys to be accomplished.
CONCLUSION: NSF participation in a telescope time exchange program would restore to U.S. astronomy an important fraction of the science otherwise lost as a consequence of the divestment of National Optical Astronomical Observatory (NOAO) facilities.
CONCLUSION: The long experience of NOAO in competitive allocation of telescope time makes it a natural choice to participate on behalf of NSF in an exchange program and to host and facilitate the exchange.
RECOMMENDATION: The National Science Foundation (NSF) should direct the National Optical Astronomical Observatory to administer a new telescope time exchange with participating observatories of the U.S. Optical and Infrared System. Observatory representatives would barter facilities, swap instruments, or engage in limited term partnerships for telescope time or data access on behalf of their respective constituencies, as appropriate, and NSF would barter
telescope time or data access or engage in limited term partnerships to carry out proposals competed through a system-wide time allocation committee.
6.3 Formulating a Planning Process
CONCLUSION: Execution of an OIR System strategic plan to identify and develop highest-priority new peer-reviewed capabilities—for example, new instruments and software—would help address near-term decadal science needs.
CONCLUSION: A component of the process for generating and updating the system plan could be a periodic forum to review the capabilities that need to be sustained or developed through partnered or independent investment, by NSF and other partners, in the U.S. OIR System. NOAO could facilitate the meeting by a system organizing committee, chosen to represent all segments of the community.
CONCLUSION: Development and implementation of new capabilities will require (1) funding (to the level available), (2) groups capable of carrying out the technical work effectively, and (3) telescopes on which to deploy and use new instruments.
RECOMMENDATION: The National Science Foundation should direct the National Optical Astronomical Observatory (NOAO) to administer an ongoing community-wide planning process to identify the critical Optical and Infrared System capabilities needed in the near term to realize the decadal science priorities. NOAO could facilitate the meeting of a system organizing committee, chosen to represent all segments of the community, which would produce the prioritized plan. NSF would then solicit, review, and select proposals to meet those capabilities, within available funding.
CONCLUSION: The Mid-Scale Innovations Program is not structured in a way that supports strategic decisions, nor is its funding pool large enough that strategic decisions could be easily integrated into its funding process.
6.4 Building the U.S. OIR System
CONCLUSION: Creation and operation of the Telescope Time Exchange, OIR System strategic planning, and implementation of the plan might be most effective if carried out as an integrated program. NOAO has successfully
conducted activities like these in the past and would be the logical choice to undertake this program, representing NSF interests.
CONCLUSION: A wide range of participants will have a stake in the success of this activity. It is critical that all these stakeholders have a role in its oversight.
6.5 The International Scene
CONCLUSION: NOAO could play a potentially beneficial role as a facilitator of discussions between the U.S. OIR System and other countries’ observatories in order to pursue possible international telescope time exchanges.