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The AAO: 2005-2015. Matthew Colless 17 December 2004. AAO’s Mission.

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the aao 2005 2015

The AAO: 2005-2015

Matthew Colless

17 December 2004

aao s mission
AAO’s Mission
  • The mission of the Anglo-Australian Observatory (AAO) is to provide world-class optical and infrared observing facilities that enable Australian and British astronomers to carry out excellent science. The AAO is a world leader in astronomical research and in the development of innovative telescope instrumentation. It also takes a leading role in the formulation of long-term plans for astronomy in Australia.
aao usage users
AAO Usage + Users
  • AAO telescopes do 50-60 observing programs involving 150-250 astronomers (AU+AAO~40%,UK~40%,other~20%)

AAT over-subscription factors

  • Time on the AAT is over-subscribed by factor of 2-2.5.
  • Of 318 astronomers and students currently at Australian institutions (an over-estimate?), 114 (36%) used the AAO’s telescopes in the past 5 years.
publications citations
Publications + Citations
  • About 140 papers/yr from AAO telescopes (most productive in 4m-class according to ESO study in 2000).
  • Of the 300 most-cited papers produced by the international community in the last 3 years (the top 0.5%), 17 (i.e. 6%) used AAO telescopes.

Publications from AAT + UKST data and by AAO staff.

Publications from AAT data by location of first author.

science impact
Science Impact
  • Recent high-impact projects using AAO telescopes include:
    • The 2dF Galaxy/QSO Redshift Surveys + follow-up 2SLAQ survey
    • The RAVE Project: 105-106 stellar velocities over 5 years on UKST
    • Anglo-Australian Planet Search: 20 exoplanets and counting
  • Other high-impact research from the past few years that used the AAO telescopes includes:
    • Discovery of ultra-compact dwarfs, first new galaxy type in 70 years
    • The use of stellar seismology to probe the interiors of stars
    • The discovery of some of the most distant objects in the universe.
    • The identification of gamma-ray bursts with exploding stars
    • Discovery of a satellite galaxy being torn apart by the Milky Way
innovative technology
Innovative Technology
  • The AAO has excelled in astronomical instrumentation.
  • On the AAT and UKST…
    • AAO pioneered robotic optic-fibre spectrographs and is world leader
    • 2dF and 6dF have proved world-beating instruments - AAOmega will ditto
    • IRIS2 was winner Australian Engineering Excellence 2002
  • On other telescopes…
    • OzPoz for ESO’s VLT (produced 15 VLT nights and 6dF)
    • FMOS for Subaru (Japanese collaborations, WFMOS-on-Subaru)
    • WFMOS (major new instrument for Gemini/Subaru, unique 8m capability for outstanding science and value even in ELT era)
  • New technology in the pipeline…
    • Starbugs - micro-robotics for smart focal planes in very large telescopes
    • Sky-suppression fibres - a revolution in ground-based near-infrared observations will follow from near-perfect suppression of OH sky lines
new aat agreement
New AAT Agreement
  • Key features of the new Agreement are :
    • UK funding halves in FY 2006-7, again in FY 2007-8. UK contribution then steady at ~$1M/yr until 2010.
    • Relative AU:UK funding relative fractions AAT time
    • While agreement openbeyond 2010, expectUK will withdraw all funding from mid-2010
    • Once UK withdraws, the AU government assumes full ownership of the AAO.
the need for the aat
The Need for the AAT
  • For next ~5 years Australia O/IR astronomers will have access to:
    • 6.2% of Gemini (36nt/yr plus short-term extra 8m nights via MNRF)
    • 50% of AAT now, rising to 80% from mid-2007 (165nt/yr265nt/yr)
    • 100% of a range of smaller telescopes (2.3-metre, Skymapper, etc.)
  • Supposing very optimistic scenario, in 5 years’ time might have…
    • 10% of Gemini, or equivalent 8m access (~60nt/yr)
    • 100% of PILOT (~2-metre in Antarctica)
    • share in ELT program (provides no nights in coming decade!)

…can Australia do without the AAT in the coming decade?

  • Australia needs the AAT as…
    • A workhorse O/IR telescope for research by Australian astronomers
    • An on-shore, classical-observing-mode facility for training students
    • A test-bed for prototyping and exploiting innovative instrumentation
can the aat compete
Can the AAT compete?
  • Is the AAT a worthwhile facility in the 8-metre era? (Note that the ELT era begins in the decade after next!)
  • It has competed successfully for last 5 years in the 8m era!
  • Keys to success were innovative instrumentation and bulk access to observing time…
    • AAOmega will be the world’s most powerful instrument for survey spectroscopy in 2006 and for several years thereafter
    • Modest upgrades to IRIS2 (e.g. starbug IFUs) and UCLES (e.g. multi-fibre feed) would make those instruments highly competitive for a range of interesting applications
    • Bulk access to AAT time makes possible ambitious observing programs impossible on 8m telescopes (given limited access)
need for instrument program
Need for instrument program
  • The AAO’s instrumentation program is valuable because…
    • It provides innovative instrumentation for the AAT, keeping it ahead of the technology cycle & doing high-impact research
    • It provides Australia with leverage in determining the science agenda on Gemini (e.g. success of the WFMOS concept)
    • It connects to observatories around the world, providing access to powerful facilities (e.g. OzPoz on VLT, FMOS on Subaru)
    • It earns external income that allows the AAO to undertake new instruments with direct benefits for Australian astronomers (e.g. 6dF was the OzPoz prototype, WFMOS benefits from FMOS)
    • It is a highly-rated research program in its own right, with a long history (and bright future) of seminal contributions to astronomical technology and instrumentation
need for aao as institution
Need for AAO as institution
  • The AAO is valuable to Australian astronomers as an institution, since…
    • It provides independent services and facilities for all Australian astronomers; independent in that it is not a university and so is not competing with universities in any way (esp. for ARC funding).
    • It is focussed on delivering facilities for O/IR astronomy, a field in which Australia is historically strong, which involves a large fraction of the research community, and which has a very exciting future.
    • The AAO has a separate funding stream through DEST that is independent of the universities, of the ARC, and of CSIRO. Diversity of funding sources provides robustness to astronomy.
    • The AAO can provide a natural home for all O/IR national facilities. At present this means just the AAT and UKST, but in future it might include the Gemini National Project Office and the national support facilities for Australian access to an ELT or an Antarctic telescope.

Based on the above arguments, the Decadal Plan might include

recommendations as follows…

  • The AAO should be the national organization that supports all of Australia’s major optical/infrared astronomy facilities.
  • The AAT is required as a major facility for Australian astronomers throughout the decade 2006-2015.
  • A major new optical/infrared facility is required by about 2015. The AAO could wind down AAT operations and transfer effort to supporting operation of the new facility.
  • The AAO instrumentation program is a world leader and benefits Australian astronomers. It should continue to be supported at least at its current level.
the national observatory
The National Observatory

The AAO should be the organization supporting all of Australia’s national optical/infrared astronomy facilities.

The AAO (as the Anglo-Australian Observatory up to 2010, and perhaps as the “Australian Astronomical Observatory” thereafter) should not only operate the AAT and UKST, but also be the support organization for Gemini and other major new optical/infrared facilities in which Australia gains a share (e.g. an ELT or an Antarctic telescope).

aat needed 2006 2015
AAT needed 2006-2015

The AAT is required as a major observational facility for Australian astronomers throughout the decade 2006-2015.

This means Australia needs not only to maintain the new Agreement for the first five years (2006-2010), but also be ready and able to take sole responsibility for running the telescope after the end of the Agreement.

a graceful transition
A Graceful Transition

A major new optical/infrared facility is required by about 2015. The AAO would wind down AAT operations in order to support this new facility.

Australia should be aiming to obtain access to an operating ELT, Antarctic 8m, or other equivalent major new optical/infrared facility by around 2015. The AAO could re-direct the operations cost of the AAT to operating/supporting this new facility. This may mean operating the AAT in full-cost-recovery mode, converting it to other purposes, or closing it down. A plan for a graceful transition is required.

instrument program
Instrument Program

The AAO instrumentation program is a world leader and benefits Australian astronomers. It should continue to be supported at least at its current level.

Australian O/IR astronomy benefits from the AAO’s instrumentation program and should be prepared to invest in it. The AAO can then remain a source of innovative technology that gives Australian astronomers access to the best instruments on the best telescopes. There may be opportunities for partnerships with RSAA, ATNF, CIP, etc.