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Enhancing the Value of US National Participation in Giant Segmented Mirror Telescopes

Three Giant Segmented Mirror Telescopes (GSMTs) with apertures >20m are now entering their construction phases. Each is being built by an international consortium, and two (the Thirty Meter Telescope, TMT, and the Giant Magellan Telescope, GMT), have US institutional partners, but at present there is no national, federally funded participation that would ensure GSMT access for all US astronomers. The previous two Decadal Surveys and the 2015 US OIR System study (“Elmegreen Report”) all identified US national participation in GSMTs as a high priority. GSMTs will enable transformative new science in nearly all areas of astronomy, and US astronomers outside the few partner institutions will be at a significant competitive disadvantage if there is no channel for open access, in which any US astronomer with a good idea can propose and execute GSMT science programs. Here, we discuss a number of ways in which NOAO and NSF-AST could maximize the scientific return to the US astronomical community from federal participation and investment in GSMTs. These include operations models with a balance of smaller and larger observing programs, including cooperative, international “key projects” or survey programs, and a robust system of data management to ensure that uniquely valuable GSMT data can be used and re-used by a broad segment of the astronomical community, including archival researchers. Implementing these ideas will require a significant level of national participation in these observatories, in order that the US community has a role in shaping their governance, scientific planning, and operations.

We have submitted a white paper on this topic, and welcome comments and input from others.

Proposed by Mark Dickinson (NOAO), Ian Dell’Antonio (Brown University), Anthony Gonzalez (University of Florida), Stephen Kane (San Francisco State University), James Lloyd (Cornell University), Jennifer Lotz (STScI), Lucas Macri (Texas A&M University), Karen Meech (University of Hawaii, IfA), Susan Neff (NASA/GSFC), Deborah Padgett (NASA/JPL), Catherine Pilachowski (Indiana University), Kartik Sheth (NASA/HQ), and Lisa Storrie-Lombardi (IPAC) (Several)

Comments (2):

I think that national participation in a GSMT project is critical for keeping US OIR astronomy strong in the coming decade. I'd be happy to help work on this.

Comment by Gregory Rudnick (University of Kansas)

I think this is one of the most important challenges facing US OIR astronomy in the next decade and beyond. I'm happy to help develop this argument. We submitted a separate (short) white paper advocating for this as well: https://www.noao.edu/2020Decadal/uploads/OIR_Concept_Paper-1.pdf

Comment by Casey Papovich (Texas A&M University)

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