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NOAO Newsletter - Director's Office - September 2000 - Number 63


An Observing System: What Does It Mean and How Do We Get There?

Sidney Wolff

The recently published report of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Survey Committee (AASC) makes a number of recommendations for ground-based O/IR astronomy. Two major new facilities are recommended--the 30-m Giant Segmented-Mirror Telescope (GSMT) and the Large-aperture Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). It is fairly easy to see how to go about defining the scientific requirements for these facilities and identifying the technical issues that must be addressed before construction could be initiated with some reasonable confidence about cost and schedule.

Much more challenging is the recommendation that "all facilities, whether nationally or independently operated, should be viewed as a single integrated system . . . " What does this really mean? How do we get from where we are today to this new paradigm? How do we balance greater coordination and planning for facilities as a whole with support of truly creative ideas that could never arise out of some bureaucratic process?

The next article in this newsletter describes several community workshops that we are sponsoring to begin to try to understand this issue, as well as to begin to define the requirements for the GSMT and LSST.

There are other projects that will by their nature require contributions from many institutions. Two examples are the development of adaptive optics--both for today's telescopes and for the GSMT--and the National Virtual Observatory (NVO). In each case, there are a series of tasks and activities that must be completed in order to achieve the overall set of goals, but these activities will necessarily be funded by multiple proposals from many different institutions.

It is important to have an overall road map that shows where we are trying to go and milestones to measure progress along the way so that we do not lose sight of our destination. To this end, NOAO worked with members of the community active in the adaptive optics program and the NVO to prepare white papers outlining the requirements for both programs and to present them to the NSF. Look for them at the NOAO Web site and please send me comments since these roadmaps should be viewed as evolving documents that will be updated regularly based on actual accomplishments of the many institutions that are contributing to these programs.

White papers such as these, which have the goal of defining what will best serve the community as a whole, can play an important role in moving toward greater optimization of the overall investment being made in what will remain a distributed system of capabilities, facilities, and programs.


Next: NOAO --- A Partnership with the Community
Previous: Stokes Mapping of Solar Magnetic Fields at 12 µm Wavelength
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