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From the NSO Director's Office (1Dec95) (from NSO, NOAO Newsletter No. 44, December 1995) GONG is Alive! On Thursday, 4 October, the "N" in "GONG" became fully operational with the commissioning of the sixth instrument in Udaipur, India. It is our pleasure to extend congratulations on behalf of NSO to the entire GONG project, and to our sponsors at the NSF, for achieving an ambitious goal that is widely recognized as providing a major tool for exploring the solar interior and testing the foundations of astrophysics. A full report is given elsewhere in this Newsletter. Budget Issues Previous Newsletters outlined the expected situation for FY 1996: a 5% reduction in real dollars from FY 1995. Now that the new fiscal year is upon us, the other shoe has dropped: NSO experienced a reduction in force by four positions on 30 September. Also, at the end of this calendar year, the solar-stellar synoptic program at the McMath-Pierce Telescope will cease operations. Since Jacques Beckers announced the termination of the program in January of this year, it has been maintained with temporary NOAO and NSO funding, which is now exhausted. Painful as these reductions are, we know that most scientific organizations in the US are facing a similar challenge. In the near term, we will maintain solar telescope operations and services to visitors at their previous levels. We are actively working with the solar physics community and our Users Committee, the Observatories Council Solar Subcommittee (described in the last Newsletter), and with NOAO to define a program that can thrive in these difficult times. We will do everything we can to improve the scientific productivity of our existing unique telescopes, but, in the longer term, much will depend on the success of new initiatives: the extension of GONG for a full solar cycle; the operation of RISE/PSPT; the CLEAR concept for a large-aperture solar telescope; and the SOLIS concept for a new generation of synoptic instruments. CLEAR and SOLIS The Coronagraphic and Low Emissivity Astronomical Reflector is a concept for a 4-m class solar telescope that can observe both the corona and the disk with broad wavelength coverage (330-25000 nm) and high angular resolution using adaptive optics. CLEAR will also have secondary applications at night for stellar, planetary, and cosmological studies where low scattered light and low emissivity are at a premium. Versatile and powerful, CLEAR is conceived as a flagship telescope for the first decades of the 21st century. Ground-based solar astronomy in the US is at a crossroads. Our major telescopes are over 20 years old; we struggle for a significant presence in university departments of astronomy and physics; base funding in both the grants programs and the national centers is on a downward slope. We continue to do good science by exploiting novel techniques and state-of-the-art instrumentation at the focal planes of our telescopes, but we face strong (and welcome) competition from much newer facilities in Europe and Asia. In contrast, ground-based nighttime astronomy is entering a golden age of multiple 10-m class telescopes complementing HST and other space observatories. Despite funding pressures of its own, space-based solar physics is poised for major advances with the launch of SoHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) and TRACE (Transition Region and Coronal Explorer), along with balloon and rocket programs and the hugely successful Yohkoh satellite. Will ground-based solar astronomy fully participate in and contribute to this exciting era? To do so, we must act now--not hastily, but urgently. To ensure that the CLEAR concept is defined and subjected to scrutiny as quickly and economically as possible, NSO Director Jacques Beckers is devoting as much of his attention as he can to its design study. The appointment of Doug Rabin as Acting Director for this year relieves Jacques of most of the tasks related to the short-term functioning of the observatory, allowing him more time to focus on the long-term planning, which includes the CLEAR study. It is an audacious step in difficult budgetary circumstances; but nothing less may suffice. The CLEAR effort is now proceeding vigorously: the Science Working Group chaired by Jeff Kuhn had its first meeting in November, and the technical and engineering team headed by Jacques Beckers meets regularly. The nominal goal is to submit a proposal for the construction phase in 1997. The SOLIS (Synoptic Optical Long-Term Investigations of the Sun) concept complements CLEAR by proposing a new generation of synoptic instruments that will replace the full-disk magnetograph on Kitt Peak and the full-disk patrol telescopes and coronal photometer on Sac Peak. You probably haven't heard about SOLIS because it was developed on a heroically short timescale (thanks to Jack Harvey, Larry November, Christoph Keller, and many other contributors) in response to a request from NOAO to propose large-scale projects as part of the overall NOAO restructuring program described by Sidney Wolff in the last Newsletter. SOLIS comprises four instruments: a full-disk vector spectro-magnetograph with a dedicated 50-cm telescope; a full-disk patrol telescope of 15-cm aperture mated to a tunable Lyot filter to obtain H-alpha, K-line, and continuum images as well as morphological magnetograms; a coronal imager capable of 1" angular resolution, accurate subtraction of sky background, and spectral coverage from 500 to 1100 nm; and a spectrometer to measure the integrated (Sun-as-a-star) solar spectrum with high precision and spectral resolution. The draft text of the proposal for SOLIS is available for viewing or downloading via the NSO home page, http://argo.tuc.noao.edu/. The CLEAR and SOLIS concepts are not final. Their ultimate form--or indeed, whether they survive at all--will depend in large measure on how deeply the solar physics community is engaged in their definition and, ultimately, their advocacy. We welcome your suggestions, criticism, and assistance. Jacques Beckers (Director), Doug Rabin
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