NOAO < 2020DECADAL < Astro2020 NOAO-related APC White Papers

Astro2020 NOAO-related APC White Papers

Investing for Discovery in Astronomy

Joan R. Najita (NOAO)

How should we invest our available resources to best sustain astronomy’s thrilling track record of discovery, established over the past few decades? Two strong hints come from (1) our history of astronomical discoveries and (2) literature citation patterns that reveal how discovery and development activities in science are strong functions of team size. These argue that progress in astronomy hinges on support for a diversity of research efforts in terms of team size, research tools and platforms, and investment strategies that encourage risk taking.

These ideas also encourage us to examine the implications of the trend toward “big team science” and “survey science” in astronomy over the past few decades, and to reconsider the common assumption that progress in astronomy always means “trading up” to bigger apertures and facilities. Instead, the considerations above argue that we need a balanced set of investments in small- to large-scale initiatives and team sizes both large and small. Large teams tend to develop existing ideas, whereas small teams are more likely to fuel the future with disruptive discoveries. While large facilities are the “value” investments that are guaranteed to produce discoveries, smaller facilities are the “growth stocks” that are likely to deliver the biggest science bang per buck, sometimes with outsize returns. One way to foster the risk taking that fuels discovery is to increase observing opportunity, i.e., create more observing nights and facilitate the exploration of science-ready data.

Ground Based Optical Astronomy – Keeping the Innovation Window Open

Stephen Ridgway (NOAO)

The deployment of more and larger ground-based observing facilities complement the trend toward dramatically fewer opportunities for peer-reviewed community access to a wide variety of telescopes and instruments.

The evolution of ground based optical astronomy toward highly multiplexed surveys offers unprecedented science throughput. The massive cost of these programs requires large, highly structured teams working on decade time-scales to generate the community support necessary to ensure development and operation. Science by broad consensus enables construction of facilities and associated resources for large-scale programs. However, this approach has over time subtracted from the resources needed for the continuous turbulent innovation that arises naturally with regular competed PI access to a broad range of telescopes and attendant capabilities. While the trend in astronomy shows an increase in large-team science, a larger fraction of publications still show authorship by small teams.

This white paper makes the case for providing where practical a component of community access to private and consortium observatories. We recommend ensuring that even our very large survey-driven facilities, such as DESI, LSST and their successors, should be organized, funded and operated to provide a fractional component of traditional, competed access in an open marketplace of ideas. We also recommend that the balance between large, medium and small funding opportunities should be modulated by thoughtful decisions based on evidence and the for the best interests of the science and the profession.

The basis for these recommendations is the record of innovation in science, experience with telescope access, record of publications in astronomy, and quest for equity of opportunity in our exploration of the universe.

The NOAO Mid-Scale Observatories

Lori Allen (NOAO) et al.

We describe present and future capabilities of the Mid-Scale Observatories (MSO) of the new national center merging NOAO, Gemini Observatory and LSST Operations. MSO is com- prised of Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory (CTIO) and the Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO). Telescopes at both sites currently operate on a mix of public and private funding. Recent upgrades have equipped the MSO 4-m class telescopes to perform world-class surveys in diverse areas of astrophysics, from dark energy to exoplanets.

Community Science and Data-Intensive Astronomy Support at the US National Optical Astronomy Observatory

Adam S. Bolton (NOAO) et al.

Research opportunity in modern astronomy is defined by both access to observing facilities and access to data. The Community Science and Data Center (CSDC) of NSF’s National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) supports the broad US astronomical community through an integrated approach to both of these major modes of access. CSDC’s strategic goals are (1) to maximize community science output from the data sets and facilities of today, and (2) to prepare the community for science with the data sets and facilities of tomorrow. In this white paper, we describe the CSDC mission and program, and recommend that the Astro2020 Decadal Survey endorse a strong program of data services as a critical function of a modern National Observatory.

The Growing Importance of a Tech Savvy Astronomy and Astrophysics Workforce

Dara Norman (NOAO) et al.

Fundamental coding and software development skills are increasingly necessary for success in nearly every aspect of astronomical and astrophysical research as large surveys and high resolution simulations become the norm. However, professional training in these skills is inaccessible or impractical for many members of our community. Students and professionals alike have been expected to acquire these skills on their own, apart from formal classroom curriculum or on-the-job training. Despite the recognized importance of these skills, there is little opportunity to develop them - even for interested researchers.

To ensure a workforce capable of taking advantage of the computational resources and the large volumes of data coming in the next decade, we must identify and support ways to make software development training widely accessible to community members, regardless of affiliation or career level. To develop and sustain a technology capable astronomical and astrophysical workforce, we recommend that agencies make funding and other resources available in order to encourage, support and, in some cases, require progress on necessary training, infrastructure and policies. In this white paper, we focus on recommendations for how funding agencies can lead in the promotion of activities to support the astronomy and astrophysical workforce in the 2020s.

The Data Lab: A Science Platform for the analysis of ground-based astronomical survey data

Knut A. G. Olsen (NOAO) et al.

The next decade will feature a growing number of massive ground-based photometric, spectroscopic, and time-domain surveys, including those produced by DECam, DESI, and LSST. The NOAO Data Lab was launched in 2017 to enable efficient exploration and analysis of large surveys, with particular focus on the petabyte-scale holdings of the NOAO Archive and their associated catalogs. The Data Lab mission and future development align well with two of the NSF’s Big Ideas, namely Harnessing Data for 21st Century Science and Engineering and as part of a network to contribute to Windows on the Universe: The Era of Multi-messenger Astrophysics. Along with other Science Platforms, the Data Lab will play a key role in scientific discoveries from surveys in the next decade, and will be crucial to maintaining a level playing field as datasets grow in size and complexity.

A Science Platform Network to Facilitate Astrophysics in the 2020s

Vandana Desai (Caltech/IPAC) et al. (includes NOAO and LSST coauthors)

Astronomical facilities will produce petabytes of observational data in the 2020s. Simulated data sets created to plan and interpret the data from these missions will match or exceed these volumes. Mining such new petabyte-scale data sets to meet planned science goals and to explore discovery space will require astronomers to adopt new approaches and to develop new tools. Increasingly complex search criteria, necessary for identifying objects of interest within billion-row catalogs, will strain query response times. Modern statistical methods will result in data-reduction methods that actually increase data volumes. Visualization techniques that have worked well for decades will be inadequate in this regime. The current network infrastructure will be inadequate for downloading the vast quantities of multiwavelength observational and simulated data that should be jointly analyzed. Analysis tools will need to be augmented with scalable machine learning algorithms and data analytics. To meet these challenges, astronomers will require access to large volumes of high-performance storage and high-throughput computational resources, as well as the training to use them. In this white paper, we advocate for the adequate funding of data centers to develop and operate “science platforms”, which will provide storage and computing resources for the astronomical community to run analyses near the data. Furthermore, these platforms should be connected to enable cross-center analysis and processing. Providing such resources will build on unrestricted data access to realize properly resourced data analysis, thus allowing scientists to explore and implement their research ideas regardless of their own institutional facilities.

Towards a Spectroscopic Survey Roadmap for the 2020s and Beyond

Adam S. Bolton

Wide-field survey spectroscopy is essential to realizing the astrophysics potential of LSST and other imaging surveys. This white paper reviews the consistent findings that this capability is a critical scientific need of the US community in the 2020s and beyond, summarizes facilities across a range of apertures and timescales that can address this need, and offers strategic recommendations for the Astro2020 Decadal Survey to enable national scientific progress and leadership in this area in the coming decade.

The Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI)

M. E. Levi (LBNL), Lori E. Allen (NOAO) et al.

We present the status of the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) and its plans and opportunities for the coming decade. DESI construction and its initial five years of operations are an approved experiment of the U.S. Department of Energy and is summarized here as context for the Astro2020 panel. Beyond 2025, DESI will require new funding to continue operations. We expect that DESI will remain one of the world’s best facilities for wide-field spectroscopy throughout the decade. More about the DESI instrument and survey can be found at

ANTARES: Enabling Time-Domain Discovery in the 2020s

Thomas Matheson (NOAO) et al.

We describe the scientific goals and capabilities of the ANTARES project. This is a software infrastructure system designed to process time-domain alerts at the scale the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will produce. Current and future time-domain surveys will produce events at a scale well beyond the capacity of individual astronomers. We are building a system that will allow everyone access to large-scale time-domain streams with real-time filters, machine learning, and other tools so that astronomers can find and study the objects that they want. Without such a system, we run the risk of losing the great potential of astrophysical time-domain discovery in the 2020s. ANTARES will ingest millions of alerts from wide-field surveys and then annotate, characterize, categorize, and rank them, producing a value-added product for the community. This enables active follow-up at all scales, from amateurs to robotic facilities to the next generation of extremely large telescopes.

Tying Research Funding to Progress on Inclusion

Dara Norman (NOAO) et al.

The US professional astronomy and astrophysics fields are not representative of the diversity of people in the nation. For example, 2017 AIP reports show that in 2014, women made up only about 20% of the faculty in astronomy and physics departments, and the numbers for under-represented minorities (men and women) were, and remain, low. However numerous studies have demonstrated that diverse groups (in both cognition and identity) outperform groups that are more homogeneous, even when the homogeneous group is comprised of all ‘high achieving experts.’ (Hong and Page, 2004, Kleinberg and Raghu, 2018). This has been shown to be the case on a variety of complex tasks. Thus, if we want the best opportunity to make progress on and answer the research questions of the 2020s, we must employ diverse teams who bring different heuristics and perspectives to those problems.

However, currently in the field there are few tangible motivations to encourage projects, missions or programs to employ teams that are diverse in both cognitive areas and identity to take on these complex problems. Managing groups and organizations contracted to run these efforts are currently not required or incentivized to employ an identity diverse workforce.

In this position (white) paper, we recommend that agency funding (from NSF, NASA, DOE, etc.), especially for missions, projects and programs, encourage the development and retention of diverse teams by requiring documentation of and progress on metrics related to diversity, inclusion and equity. We further recommend that documented progress on diversity and inclusion metrics should be monitored in reviews alongside project management and budget reporting. Managing groups and organizations proposing to administer projects on behalf of agencies should be required to demonstrate competency with respect to diversity and inclusion metrics.

Providing a Timely Review of Input Demographics to Advisory Committees

Dara Norman (NOAO) et al.

Organizations that support science (astronomy) such as federal agencies, research centers, observatories, academic institutions, societies, etc. employ advisory committees and boards as a mechanism for reviewing their activities and giving advice on practices, policies and future directions. As with any scientific endeavor, there is concern over complementing these committees with enough members who have as broad a range of expertise and understanding as possible, so that bias is mitigated. However, for a number of reasons (logistical, practical, financial, etc.), committees can also not be infinitely large and thus trade-offs must be made. It is often recognized that conflicts of interest must be acknowledged within these committees, but what is not often recognized it the potential for unmitigated biases and “group think” that can be introduced as part of these committees.

In this white paper, we recommend that advisory committees that collect community input, (e.g., the Decadal Survey review committee), also collect, compile and review input demographic data before finalizing reports, (e.g., the final 2020 Decadal Survey Report). A summary of these data should be released alongside the final survey report. This information would enable the committee to understand potential ‘blind spots’ and biases of the data collection phase and inform future data collections of any barriers that affect the omission of perspectives from various demographics.

2020 Vision: Towards a Sustainable OIR System

Sally Oey (U. Michigan) et al.

Open-access telescopes of all apertures are needed to operate a competitive and efficient national science program. While larger facilities contribute light-gathering power and angular resolution, smaller ones dominate for field of view, time-resolution, and especially, total available observing time, thereby enabling our entire, diversely-expert community. Smaller aperture telescopes therefore play a critical and indispensable role in advancing science. Thus, the divestment of NSF support for modest-aperture (1 – 4 m) public telescopes poses a serious threat to U.S. scientific leadership, which is compounded by the unknown consequences of the shift from observations driven by individual investigators to survey-driven science. Given the much higher cost efficiency and dramatic science returns for investments in modest aperture telescopes, it is hard to justify funding only the most expensive facilities. We therefore urge the Astro2020 panel to explicitly make the case for modest aperture facilities, and to recommend enhancing this funding stream to support and grow this critical component of the OIR System. Further study is urgently needed to prioritize the numerous exciting potential capabilities of smaller facilities,and to establish sustainable, long-term planning for the System.

The Importance of Telescope Training in Data Interpretation

David G. Whelan (Austin College) et al.

Remote observing and the use of data obtained from mid- to large-scale astronomical surveys now accounts for a sizable portion of the data used for research in astronomy. This shift has enabled novel research activities and has democratized them to the extent of making large datasets available to anyone with an internet connection. As a side effect, fewer astronomers are being trained on the basics of telescope operation. The dangers associated with this reduced training include the risk that professional astronomers lose the ability to discern instrumental from astrophysical signals in their data. Additionally, there is a real risk that technical skills that were once associated with professional practitioners will be relegated to the realm of support staff and amateurs. This may result in the average population of professional astronomers possessing inferior technical skills in observing, and therefore less creativity and fewer insights in the pursuit of their research.

In this State of the Profession Consideration, we will discuss the state of hands-on observing within the profession, including: information about professional observing trends; student tele- scope training, beginning at the undergraduate and graduate levels, as a key to ensuring a base level of technical understanding among astronomers; the role that amateurs can take moving for- ward; the impact of telescope training on using survey data effectively; and the need for modest investments in new, standard instrumentation at mid-size aperture telescope facilities to ensure their usefulness for the next decade.

The Early Career Perspective on the Coming Decade, Astrophysics Career Paths, and the Decadal Survey Process

Emily Moravec (U. Florida), Ian Czekala (UC Berkeley), Kate Follette (Amherst College) et al.

In response to the need for the Astro2020 Decadal Survey to explicitly en- gage early career astronomers, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine hosted the Early Career Astronomer and Astrophysicist Focus Session (ECFS)1 on October 8-9, 2018 under the auspices of Committee of Astronomy and Astrophysics. The meeting was attended by fifty six pre-tenure faculty, research scientists, postdoctoral scholars, and senior graduate stu- dents2, as well as eight former decadal survey committee members, who acted as facilitators. The event was designed to educate early career astronomers about the decadal survey process, to pro- vide them with guidance toward writing effective white papers, to solicit their feedback on the role that early career astronomers should play in Astro2020, and to provide a forum for the discussion of a wide range of topics regarding the astrophysics career path.

This white paper presents highlights and themes that emerged during two days of discussion. In Section 1, we discuss concerns that emerged regarding the coming decade and the astrophysics career path, as well as specific recommendations from participants regarding how to address them. We have organized these concerns and suggestions into five broad themes. These include (se- quentially): (1) adequately training astronomers in the statistical and computational techniques necessary in an era of “big data”, (2) responses to the growth of collaborations and telescopes, (3) concerns about the adequacy of graduate and postdoctoral training, (4) the need for improvements in equity and inclusion in astronomy, and (5) smoothing and facilitating transitions between early career stages. Section 2 is focused on ideas regarding the decadal survey itself, including: incorpo- rating early career voices, ensuring diverse input from a variety of stakeholders, and successfully and broadly disseminating the results of the survey.

Recommendations presented here do not necessarily represent a universal consensus among participants, nor do they reflect the entirety of the discussions. Rather, we have endeavored to highlight themes, patterns, and concrete suggestions.

The Importance of 4m Class Observatories to Astrophysics in the 2020s

Nancy J. Chanover (NMSU) et al.

The Role of National Observatories in Professional Astronomy Training

K. O’Neil (Green Bank Observatory) et al.

Infrastructure and Strategies for Time Domain and MMA and Follow-Up

Bryan W. Miller (Gemini Observatory) et al. (includes NOAO coauthors)

Time domain and multi-messenger astrophysics are growing and important areas for the 2020s. Effort being put into developing the components of a follow-up system for dynamically turning alerts into data needs continued support and funding. This will allow the most science from new facilities such as LSST and improve productivity for all observers.

The US Extremely Large Telescope Program

Sidney Wolff (AURA) et al. (includes NOAO coauthor M. Dickinson)

Multiwavelength Astrophysics in the Era of the ngVLA and the US ELT Program

Anthony J. Beasley (AUI/NRAO) and Sidney Wolff (AURA) et al. (includes NOAO coauthor M. Dickinson)

Two major ground-based astronomy initiatives for the 2020s, the US Extremely Large Telescope Program (US-ELTP) and the Next-Generation Very Large Array (ngVLA), have been described in separate APC white papers. This submission explores the science synergy of these remarkable facilities, and identifies key areas of research enabled by US access to these capabilities. We examine the issues raised by the costs of building and operating flagship facilities, and strategies that might be effective in maintaining the health of the US astronomical community and its international leadership. We propose a time-phased strategy to develop both facilities that would enable completing them in the coming decade.

Observatory Operating Costs and Their Relation to Capital Costs

Bob Goodrich (GMTO) et al. (including NOAO coauthor M. Dickinson)

EPO Vision, Needs, and Opportunities through Citizen Science

Laura Trouille (Zooniverse; The Adler Planetarium) et al. (including NOAO coauthor C. Walker)

Citizen science has become an invaluable asset for conducting astronomical research, en- abling the public to work alongside scientists in data collection, classification, and analysis, and adding to an ever-growing record of novel discoveries. It has the ability to engage hun- dreds of thousands of volunteers in the scientific process, effectively blurring the boundary between the public and professional science practitioners. While many of our astronomical institutions are philosophically onboard with the cultural shift, much work remains. To maxi- mize the potential of citizen science to advance astronomical research, science literacy, science self-efficacy, positive attitudes towards science, and inclusiveness over the next decade, we rec- ommend the following actions be taken: 1) investment in shared citizen science resources; 2) institutional incentives and facilitation of astronomy professionals working with education, outreach, and communication professionals on citizen science efforts; 3) incorporating citizen science plans as early as the conceptual design phase of new astronomy missions and ground- based projects; 4) publication of evaluation efforts documenting best practices and impacts; 5) increased support for development and maintenance of infrastructure for citizen science; 6) continued incorporation of explicit language in funding solicitations that encourages the use of citizen science; and 7) funding for centralized science communication and media training. We highlight here the achievements of citizen science as a tool for both research and public engagement. Additionally, we provide a vision for utilizing citizen science as an accelerator for astronomical discovery, learning, and positive cultural change.

Light Pollution, Radio Interference, and Space Debris: Threats and Opportunities in the 2020s

Jeffrey Hall (Lowell Observatory) et al. (including NOAO coauthor C. Walker)

Recent rapid advances in technology have created potentially substantial threats to ground-based and space-based astronomy in the upcoming decade. Around the world, communities are transitioning away from legacy outdoor lighting such as high-pressure sodium to light-emitting diode (LED) fixtures. A dramatic increase in artificial light at night (ALAN) is occurring, and it will worsen if the default adoption of broad-spectrum white LEDs continues. In space, a sudden and dramatic increase in the number of satellites is occurring, including enormous proposed fleets of 10,000 or more in low Earth orbit, threatening to swamp ground-based astronomy and perhaps even visual appreciation of the night sky, and increasing the risk of proliferating space debris through collisions. And the radio frequency (RF) landscape is becoming increasingly crowded due to ongoing advances in wireless connectivity and other pressures, putting bandpasses used for sensitive information relevant to astronomy at risk. In this white paper, we will outline the principal risks in each area and specify key principles and policy points that the AAS and other advocates can use in mitigating the threats to astronomy posed by these developments.