NSO has entered the dawn of the new Millennium by establishing its existence as an independent national center. As noted in the last Newsletter, NSO will continue its close ties with NOAO to support our operations in Tucson and on Kitt Peak, including the sharing of technical support for project development. NSO is in the process of developing its Long Range Plan and, as always, your input is encouraged. The NSO Users' committee met in November and their report appears in this Newsletter. The report includes their reaction to parts of the Long Range Plan and their concerns about establishing an independent budget for NSO.
The focus of the Long Range Plan will be completion and operation of SOLIS; development of high-order solar adaptive optics in collaboration with the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and the Kiepenheuer-Institut für Sonnenphysik (KIS); completion of the GONG camera upgrades (from 256 x 256 to 1024 x 1024) to achieve local helioseismology; implementation of a new, large-format IR array detector system; and development of partnerships and a proposal to build a 4-m Advanced Solar Telescope (AST). (The first announcement about a one-day AST Workshop at the AAS/SPD in Lake Tahoe has been posted in Solar News and also appears in this Newsletter.) We plan to operate the existing low-order AO system (24 degrees of freedom) on several telescopes, including the Dunn Solar Telescope at Sac Peak, the McMath-Pierce on Kitt Peak, the KIS telescope on Tenerife, and the 64-cm at the Big Bear Solar Observatory. The low-order system continues to achieve spectacular science results, some of which can be viewed at http://www.sunspot.noao.edu/AOWEB.
The AURA Observatories Visiting Committee (OVC) reviewed NSO's programs in October; the previous OVC review of NSO was in December, 1996. We appreciate the time the committee spent at both sites and their efforts to provide an assessment of the quality and plans of NSO. The committee report, as well as NSO's response to the report, have been accepted by AURA and submitted to the NSF. In general, the OVC found that NSO's program is well focused on new instrumentation and that it is producing outstanding scientific results. They were particularly complimentary of the management of the SOLIS project and of the results from the adaptive optics program. They were also very impressed with results emerging from IR measurements of chromospheric properties and coronal magnetic fields.
SOLIS remains on schedule for first light in 2001. We're planning for a period of overlapping operations with the existing patrol instruments so the synoptic data sets can be cross-calibrated before switching operations to SOLIS and shutting down the old telescopes. The length of this period depends on available resources (and pressures), but at a minimum will be one month, although we'll shoot for a longer period. A further update on SOLIS follows in this Newsletter.
Encouragement for those of you who have been hearing about "the next" 1-5 m camera at the McMath-Pierce --- a Request for Proposal was released in February. The camera will be based on a 1024 x 1024 Aladdin III array that has been allocated to NSO from what is now a respectable yield from the joint USNO/NOAO array development program. The camera will operate at a sustainable rate of >10 frames/sec and will have a choice of two internal (cold) demagnification factors to match the image scales of either the Main or E/W Auxiliary McMath-Pierce Telescope, as well as the DST. We will know more after proposals have been received and evaluated (by early May, we hope).
Routine operation of the RISE/PSPT (Precision Solar Photometric Telescope) instrument on Sacramento Peak began last month. There are plans to make the PSPT images available (with only crude calibration) "live" (near real time) on our WWW site. See Newsletter No. 52 for a description of the RISE/PSPT project.
NSO looks forward to the arrival of two new scientific staff this year --- Dr. Alexei Pevtsov and Dr. Han Uitenbroek. Alex, currently at Montana State University, brings to NSO extensive experience in observational astronomy in general, and with solar telescopes and vector magnetographs in particular. He's a leading expert in the measurement and modeling of magnetic helicity in the solar atmosphere. Han comes to us from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He's a leader in the modeling of the solar atmosphere in two and three dimensions. His recent forefront scientific work has involved observations of the dynamical nature of the solar chromosphere, i.e., the COmosphere, based on high resolution CO imaging spectroscopy obtained at the McMath-Pierce telescope. Both Alex and Han will be on board by this summer.