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The Discovery Channel Telescope

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  1. The Discovery Channel Telescope A Long-Term Investment in Astronomical Science at Boston University Discovery Channel Telescope

  2. Telescopes as Laboratories • Astronomy is a “passive” science; the experiment is the universe itself, and the telescope is the observational “laboratory” • When astronomers lack assured access to large, modern telescopes, this is precisely the same as chemists, physicists, or biologists lacking assured access to state-of-the art laboratories • Assured access to a telescope means the operation of a privately-owned telescope by a university and its partners (not the federal government) • BU’s Astronomy Department is the only Astronomy department in the USA that does not have assured access to at least one telescope with a diameter of 4 meters or greater Discovery Channel Telescope

  3. Challenges to Astronomers who lack Assured Access to Large, Modern Optical Telescopes • Substantial competitive disadvantages compared to those who have assured access through their university’s investment in a private facility • Extremely difficult to win funding for observational science in an increasingly harsh funding climate • Inability to carry out large, significant programs because federal support for national, open-access optical and infrared telescopes has shrunk considerably over the past decade, and is continuing to shrink. • Very difficult to recruit and retain the best young faculty members and the best graduate students Discovery Channel Telescope

  4. Obtaining Assured Access to Large, Modern Telescopes • Universities and private observatories form partnerships/consortia to build and operate these facilities • Requires a substantial cost commitment by the astronomers’ institution (typically many millions of dollars) • Basic costs to the partners usually include initial buy-in and annual operations costs • Because of federal funding policy, buy-in and operations costs cannot be recouped by grant funding; funding is usually obtained through a donor base • Costs of new instrumentation for the telescope, support of science projects, and the analysis of the data are federally-funded through grants to PIs • This is a major capital investment in the “bricks & mortar” that are necessary to carry out basic astronomical research, without which it is extremely difficult to obtain federal funding to carry out the science Discovery Channel Telescope

  5. The Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT) • A new 4.3 meter optical/near-infrared telescope being built by Lowell Observatory, located 40 miles southeast of Flagstaff, AZ • DCT will be the 5th largest telescope in the continental US • State-of-the-art telescope and dome for excellent optical and infrared image quality • Very dark astronomical site within easy access of Flagstaff and Phoenix Discovery Channel Telescope

  6. Why should BU join the DCT? • An excellent match to the science goals of many of our astronomers, the DCT would allow us to play to our scientific strengths in large astronomical surveys and time-domain astronomy, both of which require dedicated, multi-year access to a telescope. • The DCT builds on a strong partnership bewteen BU and Lowell astronomers, who have worked well together for more than a decade. • Important opportunities for interdisciplinary, cross-college participation will be enabled by the DCT, especially between CAS, SED, COM and ENG. • Unique educational experiences for BU students, both undergraduate and graduate. • A highly visible project, both in the general public and in the astronomical community. Discovery Channel Telescope

  7. DCT Funding • Total cost to build and commission the telescope is approximately $53M; no additional funding will come from Discovery and Lowell Observatory must find new donors and university partners • Substantial initial funding has been provided by Discovery Communications, Inc. ($10M) and personally by Mr. John Hendricks, founder and CEO of Discovery ($6M) • Mr. Hendricks has been a member of Lowell Observatory’s Advisory Board for 20 years, and it was his idea to build this particular telescope to insure the future of the Observatory as a first-class private research institute for the next 20 to 30 years Discovery Channel Telescope

  8. DCT Timeline • Construction is on-schedule and on-budget, expected to be finished in 2011 • Early science operations are expected in late 2012 • Full and stable operations are expected in 2013-2014 • Competitive research lifetime will be approximately 25 years Discovery Channel Telescope

  9. The BU-Lowell Observatory 1.8 m Perkins Telescope Partnership (1998-2010): A Success Story • BU is a partner with Lowell Observatory in the operation of the 1.8m Perkins Telescope • BU astronomers designed and built the two primary science instruments in use on the Perkins • This partnership has allowed us to carry out large, long-term projects that would be impossible to carry out on national facilities • BU’s Blazar Group: At the forefront of research into the gamma-ray jets of quasars and other active galaxies due to long-term access to the Perkins. • GPIPS: A unique, comprehensive survey of the Milky Way’s magnetic field (“GPIPS”). GPIPS represents an increase of 100,000 in Galactic magnetic field information over previous studies. • While the Perkins has been very useful to a number of BU astronomers, it is a very small, outdated telescope (built in 1926) Discovery Channel Telescope

  10. How the DCT will improve BU Astronomy • Improve the BU Astronomy “brand” • Recent published rankings of departments include a substantial component of “perception” (i.e., how the Chairs of departments view the strengths of similar departments at other universities) • BU’s lack of assured access to a large, modern optical/infrared telescope is perceived by the community as being very negative; How can we possibly do the best science if we lack the basic tools that all of our competitors have? • The DCT will result in a much stronger scientific “brand” for BU astronomy, and greater scientific reach throughout the discipline • Improve Scientific Productivity • The DCT will enable BU Astronomers to meet many of the challenges of Astro2010, the new Decadal Survey of Astronomy, and to pursue truly world-class science • The DCT will allow BU to win state-of-the art instrumentation and science projects Discovery Channel Telescope

  11. Public Outreach • Exposure: with BU instruments and observers on the DCT, BU will become the “go-to” package for local Boston media outlets and, in the long run, will achieve a national presence through the direct connection with Discovery Communications (which plans to highlight research with the DCT on its science channels) • Strong, positive relations for BU: the DCT and its discoveries will fascinate the general public since astronomy is one of the most easily accessible of the physical sciences • High visibility: DCT science results (many shown on the Discovery Channel) will attract the notice of alumni, donors, and potential students Discovery Channel Telescope

  12. DCT Instrumentation DCT will support imaging and spectroscopy in the optical and near-infrared using one existing instrument and three new instruments (with a typical 3-year development time) • Flexi: new instrument proposed by BU (PI: Dan Clemens) that will allow simultaneous spectroscopy of 84 objects via an optical fiber head that can feed any spectrograph, proposal is currently pending at NSF (available late 2014) • DeVeny Spectrograph: existing Lowell instrument for optical spectroscopy, will be refurbished and will likely be the only available instrument on the DCT until late 2013 or early 2014 • Large Monolithic Imager (LMI): new instrument for imaging being built by Lowell Observatory, fully-funded, construction has just begun (available 2013-2014) • Near Infrared High Throughput Spectrograph (NIHTS): new instrument for near-infrared spectroscopy being built by Lowell Observatory, fully-funded, construction has just begun (available 2013-2014) Discovery Channel Telescope

  13. Two Modes of Astronomical Science with DCT • BU astronomers will support two modes of science with the DCT • Standard “PI science” where specific projects are lead by individual investigators (corresponding to roughly half of the current faculty); this will be funded by grants to individual investigators • “Survey science” where we will pool our resources to carry out a crucial, complementary survey to the all-sky survey that will be carried out by the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST); this will be funded by grants to multiple BU investigators Discovery Channel Telescope

  14. US Astronomical Science Priorities: Astro2010 • Every 10 years, the US astronomical community critically examines the field and produces a “decadal survey” to inform funding agencies of the priorities for astronomical research over the next 10 years; Astro2010 is the most recent of these surveys • Many of Astro2010’s top priorities are already the cores of existing science programs for BU astronomers, and these programs will be greatly enhanced by the DCT (connections between dark and luminous matter; formation of stars, black holes, and planetary systems; the workings of black holes and their influence on their surroundings; the effects of rotation and magnetic fields on stars; the deaths of massive stars) • Astro2010 also makes it clear that Astronomy must serve the nation: “In a time of concern over waning interest in science and engineering, astronomical research plays an important role in capturing the public’s attention and promoting science literacy.” With the DCT, BU astronomers, BU science educators, and BU science journalists will work together to actively promote science literary in new and expansive ways. Discovery Channel Telescope

  15. BU PI Science with the DCT: the First 3 Years • Complete by end of 2015: • Spectroscopy of binary star systems to test stellar, chemical and dynamical evolution (West) • Spectroscopy of satellites of large “host” galaxies to use dynamics to study the dark matter halos of the hosts (Brainerd) • In progress by 2014, complete after 2015: • Identification of distant galaxy clusters to constrain cosmology (Blanton) • Evolution and dynamics of galaxy groups (Blanton & Brainerd) • Cosmic magnification due to gravitational lensing by galaxy clusters (Brainerd) • Distance measures to 500,000 stars to probe the 3-d magnetic field of the Milky Way; GPIPS follow-up program (Clemens) • Imaging of shock features associated with low-mass stars in forming star clusters (Jackson) • Time-variation of emission from material nearby supermassive black holes (Marscher & Jorstad) • Physics of holes in the interstellar medium of dwarf galaxies (Opher) Discovery Channel Telescope

  16. Perkins Telescope vs. DCT • Perkins Telescope: • An old telescope with limited (and rather specialized) use for forefront science • Serves as a major part of the research program for only 4 senior personnel (Clemens, Marscher, Jorstad, West); no new major users are forseen • Of the DCT-based science in the first three years (see previous slide), only the work proposed by Professor West on the spectroscopy of binary star systems to test stellar, chemical and dynamical evolution could be done with the Perkins, and it would take at least 4 to 5 times longer to carry out project! • No strong impact with the general public (outside basic education/outreach) • DCT: • A modern, general use telescope that will provide forefront science, encompassing the entire discipline (i.e., not “niche” science) • Serves the scientific needs of roughly half the current faculty; enables vastly more science than the Perkins • Will have much stronger impact with funding agencies because of the wide variety and scope of the investigations that can be done • Enormous impact with the general public because of the direct connection to Discovery Communications, Inc. and television channels that will highlight science from the DCT Discovery Channel Telescope

  17. Forecasts: NSF Grants for PI Programs • US Ground-based astronomy is funded primarily through the NSF • Grants to individual investigators for specific science programs are typically 3 years in duration, funded at a level of $125k to $250k per year, including $50k to $100k in indirect costs per year • Assured access to the DCT will provide enormous leverage with NSF review panels; all of our science programs are high-quality, eminently “fundable”, and with the DCT the review panels will understand that there is no doubt that we can obtain sufficient telescope time • Professors Brainerd and West will use the DCT in the early science operations phase because their work can be done initially with the DeVeny spectrograph; they will both submit proposals to the NSF in fall 2011 that would support observations beginning in late 2012 and early 2013 • Because of the necessary development time for new instrumentation, the other PI science programs are best proposed to NSF starting in fall 2012, in support of observations beginning in late 2013 or early 2014 Discovery Channel Telescope

  18. The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope • Astro2010’s #1 priority for Large-Scale Ground Based Initiatives is the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), a wide-field optical telescope that will relentlessly image the sky with a cadence of 3 days • An Astro2010 “key discovery area” is Time Domain Astronomy • LSST will identify huge numbers of new, time-variable sources, including classes of objects that astronomers may never have seen before • However, LSST is only an imaging telescope; it has no ability to carry out spectroscopic follow-up of the objects that it discovers • BU Astronomers will capitalize on LSST discoveries by carrying out a huge new survey project Discovery Channel Telescope

  19. The BU DCT Spectroscopic Survey • Spectroscopy provides vital information on chemical composition, temperature, energy generation mechanisms, magnetic fields, and line-of-sight velocities • As a direct complement to LSST, BU astronomers will use the DCT and Flexi to carry out a comprehensive survey to take deep optical and near-infrared spectra of all accessible LSST objects • Our DCT survey will provide enormous added value to the LSST survey and, in particular, will contribute substantially to pure “discovery science” through time-domain spectroscopy • Although other observatories have some capability to carry out multi-object spectroscopy, none can match Flexi’s truly unique design and efficiency of data acquisition; therefore it is highly unlikely that any other comprehensive spectroscopic survey of the LSST sources will be carried out by any other collaboration Discovery Channel Telescope

  20. Forecasts: Instrumentation & Survey Science • The combination of Flexi and the DCT will result in a unique capability to carry out highly-efficient multi-object spectroscopy • Our proposed spectroscopic survey of LSST objects, particularly time-domain spectroscopy of variable objects, is something that cannot be carried out efficiently by any other observatory • Given the prominence of LSST and time-domain astronomy in Astro2010, the funding of Flexi and our proposed survey are as close to a “sure bet” for funding as there can possibly be • Construction of Flexi will generate $2M in federal funding, including $0.7M in indirect cost recovery; Flexi should be operational in 2014 • The BU survey of LSST objects will begin with LSST survey operations (expected in 2019), and we anticipate it will generate $3Min funding, including $1.2M in indirect costs Discovery Channel Telescope

  21. Summary: Direct Impact of DCT on Grant Funding • BU/DCT Spectroscopic Survey ($3M) • West stellar spectroscopy ($0.5M) • Brainerd satellite galaxy spectroscopy ($0.5M) • Blanton discovery of galaxy clusters ($0.5M) • Blanton & Brainerd galaxy groups ($0.5M) • Jackson stellar outflows ($0.6M) • Clemens Flexi design and construction ($2M) • Clemens GPIPS follow-up ($0.75M) • If grants are successful, the DCT will generate ~$8M in new grant funds in the next 6 years, including ~$3M in indirect cost recovery • In steady state, we estimate an additional $1M/year in grant funds, including $0.4M/year in indirect cost recovery Discovery Channel Telescope

  22. Forecasts: Indirect Cost Recovery from a Long-Term Investment in the DCT • Over the past 10 fiscal years, BU telescope users have typically generated a total of $1M per year in federal funding to support their science • It is realistic to expect that we would double our income within 3 to 4 years if we have assured access to the DCT • Over a 20-year period of operations we expect total funding of at least $20M to $60M for PI science, $3M for the spectroscopic survey, and $2M for instrumentation (Flexi) • At a rate of 63%, we expect at least $9.5M to $20M in indirect cost recovery over 20 years of operations • Funding for DCT science, and associated IDC recovery, would also be enhanced by strategic hires of an instrumentation specialist and an additional optical/infrared observer Discovery Channel Telescope

  23. Undergraduate Education • Astronomy and Astronomy & Physics Majors • Use of the Perkins Telescope for professional-quality observations has been a cornerstone of our undergraduate program. It is a distinguishing high mark for BU and our undergraduate majors. • To date, approximately 55 undergraduate majors have observed with the Perkins for their class work or for Senior Work for Distinction. Funding for travel has come from a combination of the PREST program at NSF, NSF grants to individual PIs, and the Astronomy Department. • In the past 6 spring semesters, all of the students enrolled in AS441 (Observational Astronomy) have made field trips to the Perkins to observe. This capstone event in the training of our undergraduates is extremely popular, and has been highly-effective for aiding the scientific and personal maturation of the students. • Future undergraduate majors will engage in similar training activities with the DCT, putting them at a distinct advantage for graduate school applications compared to students from other universities who have not been trained in the use of the most modern telescopes. • Non-Science Majors • Compared to typical “canned labs”, true science literacy and science competency are better achieved by having students design their own investigations and carry them out on research-grade facilities. This gives a genuine sense of accomplishment (“I can do this too!”). • With funding from the NSF, Prof. Clemens executed a bold experiment with his AS102 (Astronomical Universe) class this fall. The students designed and carried out their own astronomical observations at the Perkins. Part of the class traveled to AZ to operate the telescope; those students who were home at BU participated in the actual observing through real-time video/audio from the telescope via Skype. • The AS102 experiment was a rousing success, including a 2-day mini symposium at which the students presented their results. The students were justifiably proud and highly-enthusiastic about the experience. • Future 100-level classes will engage in similarly inspirational activities with the DCT, including traveling to AZ to carry out observations, and following live video/audio webcasts of “Tonight at the DCT” Discovery Channel Telescope

  24. Future Senior Personnel Likely to Use the DCT • Astronomy Department Demographics • Ours is a top-heavy department, with many very senior faculty members • Three Astronomy faculty members are currently past the age of 65 (ages 66 to 71); none of these expects to be a DCT user • Within the next 7 years, an additional five Astronomy faculty members will pass the age of 65 • Of the likely retirees in the next 7 to 10 years, only one (Prof. Marscher) expects to be a DCT user • Future BU users of the DCT • With retirements comes the opportunity to recruit the best young astronomers and to develop lines of research that we currently lack (most notably the exciting and fundamental field of extrasolar planets, which bridges both types of science done in our department: astrophysics and space physics) • As retirements occur and new young faculty are hired, the faculty usage of the DCT for core science is likely to increase • Given the time frame for the completion of the DCT instrumentation (3+ years from now), replacement hires to fill the lines of retiring faculty with new DCT users is ideal; having assured access to the DCT will enable us to recruit the very best young observers to our faculty! Discovery Channel Telescope

  25. Cross-College Collaborations with the DCT Astronomy is one of the most popular sciences with the general public and is an ideal platform for increasing science literacy. We have been working with our colleagues in SED and COM to develop concrete plans for interdisciplinary work that centers on astronomy. In addition, the development of new astronomical instrumentation has natural ties to ENG. • SED Collaboration (Professor Don DeRosa): • Expand and deepen Lowell Observatory’s successful outreach program to Navajo and Hopi school children in AZ, including a more modern “integrative” approach to all of the sciences • Bring a version of the above program to the Boston area, initially as a summer program at BU that will include both science and social studies components (“How other cultures see the sky”) • In the long term, have a local classroom presence and pair Navajo and Hopi schools with local “sister schools” (the Haitian magnate school in Cambridge is a possibility) • COM Collaboration (Professors Doug Starr and Ellen Shell): • With the theme of “The Telescope as a Tool for Social Change”, COM students will produce documentaries of our above education/public outreach work • COM students will produce video and audio (radio) content highlighting science being done with the DCT, as well as educational videos for Lowell Observatory’s renovated Visitor Center • ENG Collaboration: • Professor Siddharth Ramachandran (ECE) is a co-Investigator on Flexi (PI: Dan Clemens) Discovery Channel Telescope

  26. Partnership in the DCT: Share of Observing Time • Dr. Jeffrey Hall (Director of Lowell Observatory) has provided an extensive written estimate of costs under various access fee models; here we summarize the main points of this document and highlight the preferred model for BU • Receipt of Shares of Observing Time • Partners will receive observing time in proportion to their contribution to the total costs of the telescope and the annual operations costs, including instrument support • Total cost includes entire capital cost of the telescope, including R&D by Lowell prior to establishment of the agreement with Discovery, the capital and financing cost of the telescope plus guider and wavefront sensor, commissioning costs, and time value of money invested since the year 2000 • Initial annual operating cost for the facility and first-light instruments is estimated to be $2.25M/year • Nights attributable to operations costs contributions will be adjusted annually to reflect actual cost plus inflation • Lowell is willing to negotiate contributions on a per-night basis (“rental mode”) or as a longer-term capital investment in the telescope • Access Model Strongly Preferred by BU Astronomers • Substantial, long-term capital investment in the telescope that would allow at least 60 nights of observations per year • Buying of single nights in “rental mode” is extremely undesirable; this does not foster a true partnership, nor does it give the ability to carry out long-term projects that require extended commitment of time over the course of many years Discovery Channel Telescope

  27. Partnership in the DCT: Capital and Operations Costs • Full capital share of 1 night of DCT time is $177,000. In addition, $7,500/night for operating costs must be paid in perpetuity. • Payment need not be an up front lump sum; Lowell will consider 10-year payment plan at 1% financing • Possible Investment Models & Instrumentation Contribution • BU purchases 100% capital for a fixed number of nights per year, with the necessity of also paying annual operations costs for those nights • BU purchases 70% capital for a fixed number of nights per year, with the cost of operations folded in directly • Lowell will consider contribution of Flexi as the equivalent of cost of about 15 nights/year • Sample costs (100% capital vs. 70% capital models) • $5M investment: full capital share of 28 nights/year + additional cost of operations, or full capital share of 20 nights/year with nightly operations costs covered for 10 years • $8M investment: full capital share of 45 nights/year + additional cost of operations, or full capital share of 32 nights/year with nightly operations costs covered for 10 years • $10M investment: full capital share of 56 nights/year + additional cost of operations, or full capital share of 40 nights/year with nightly operations costs covered for 10 years • $12M investment: full capital share of 67 nights/year + additional cost of operations, or full capital share of 48 nights/year with nightly operations costs covered for 10 years Discovery Channel Telescope

  28. DCT: A Long-Term Investment in Astronomical Science at Boston University • The lifetime of a research telescope is of order 25 years • DCT and its instrumentation are being built now • DCT will be fully functional, with a complete suite of instruments, in 3 to 4 years • Because of Lowell’s immediate need to find partners, this opportunity will be lost if we do not act to make an agreement very soon • Assuming BU astronomers obtain grant funding at a rate of $2M per year, IDC recovery will balance the investment in 15 to 20 years Discovery Channel Telescope