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Strengthen Ground-Based Optical, IR Astronomy, Says National Research Council

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The National Research Council has called for improvements in observation, instrumentation and data management capabilities, as well as coordination among federal and private partners, to better position the U.S. ground-based optical and IR astronomy system to meet long-term scientific goals.

The best science, according to the nonprofit group, will be achieved through a system that is well coordinated and facilitates broad access to telescopes funded by the government and other organizations, in addition to the data they produce.

A new National Research Council report calls for continued government funding of astronomer training and telescope construction, and the sharing of facilities, instruments and data between observatories.

The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) is set to become fully operational in 2022 and will photograph the entire night sky every few nights, enabling a broad range of new science. Its science output can be expanded through complementary and supplementary work at other facilities, the report said. This can be achieved through the development of software that identifies and prioritizes significant objects or transient events observed by LSST for follow-up studies by other telescopes. Coordination and communication among facilities would enable rapid and efficient response to those events.

Meanwhile, the report urges the National Science Foundation to continue investing in the development of a number of critical instrument technologies, such as detectors and adaptive and active optics. It should also support the development of a wide-field multiplexed spectroscopic capability on a medium- or large-aperture telescope in the Southern Hemisphere that would advance studies of cosmology, galaxy evolution and the Milky Way, the report said.

In the future, the report said, the National Science Foundation should plan to invest in one or both of the giant segmented-mirror telescopes (GSMTs) expected to become operational in the 2020s, which will explore the physics of planet formation, the growth of black holes and the advent of the first galaxies.

The U.S. ground-based optical and IR astronomy system includes a combination of public and private facilities and a range of small-, medium- and large-aperture telescopes and instruments that vary in sensitivity and functionality.

The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

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Photonics Spectra
Jul 2015
The scientific observation of celestial radiation that has reached the vicinity of Earth, and the interpretation of these observations to determine the characteristics of the extraterrestrial bodies and phenomena that have emitted the radiation.
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