NOAO at the Science Frontiers of New Worlds, New Horizons

The upcoming NSF Astronomy Portfolio Review will use the 2010 Decadal Survey report, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics (NWNH), as a guide in making decisions about NSF strategic investment over the next 10 years. As described in this Currents article, NOAO has laid a strong foundation for leadership by the US astronomical community at the NWNH science frontiers through support from NSF. Investments guided by community-based planning efforts have prepared us to provide and utilize, in the coming decade, unique capabilities that address the NWNH science objectives Cosmic Dawn, New Worlds, and Physics of the Universe.

As ever, NOAO is dedicated to cost-efficient stewardship of federal investment in ground-based OIR astronomy, to maintaining broad engagement with our diverse community, and to the exploration of new scientific frontiers. Our dedication to open-access research is aimed at ensuring that the best ideas, regardless of where they come from, will connect to the right capability to make those bold leaps forward. We look forward to a decade where NOAO, Gemini, and the rest of the US OIR System work together with the community to enable transformational science.

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Comments (7)

Tell us what you think

We welcome your thoughts on any aspect of the Currents article, including your views on questions such as:

  • What are our major challenges in the coming decade? (Either those of NOAO specifically or the US community in general.)
  • Are we addressing these questions from the right point of view?
  • What is your highest priority in the coming decade? (Or what should NOAO’s priorities be?)
  • What do you want to see as an outcome of the Portfolio Review? (Or what should NOAO be aiming for as an outcome of the review?)
  • More generically: what are we doing right or wrong?


Are we on the right track?

I have been a member of the NOAO's Users' Committee since 2004 and
have witnessed NOAOs successful reinvented of itself following the
2005/6 senior review. NOAO is now the center of the US O-IR system,
responding to and serving the needs of the US community.
There have been several committee set up (e.g. ReSTAR and ALTAIR)
which have already laid out a path for how NOAO can best serve the
US community and by and large NOAO is moving in the right direction,
especially with ReSTAR.

There is one aspect of the NOAO/US OIR system that remains
problematic: Gemini. As part of the aftermath of the Senior Review,
ALTAIR produced various recommendations relating to US access to
large aperture telescopes and Gemini is a major part of said system.
We should advocate for a stronger role for NOAO within the governance
structure of Gemini as this would facilitate implementing ALTAIR

There is another specific, very different aspects of NOAOs current
work that would benefit from further discussion.
There has long been an issue within the astronomy community that
we effectively have double jeopardy attached to the use of NSF
facilities because users need to raise grant monies via proposals
to visit observatories and also win time via observing proposals.
While a portfolio review may be able to fix this to some degree,
there is a way NOAO can help alleviate the problem
- via remote observing. Implementation of remote observing could be
very cost effective - especially for NSF as a whole.

Challenges for NOAO in the coming decade.


Hi Dave,

I think both open access to the community and cutting-edge instruments are essential to maintaining the competitiveness of the US O/IR community.  The challenge for NOAO is to keep providing both at once in a potentially difficult economic climate.  In my mind, a very significant part of the value of the instruments that result from the LSP programs is that they provide community access to instruments that would otherwise be too expensive for NOAO to build.  These general-purpose instruments  (wide-field imagers and massively multiplexed or very high throughput spectrograph), allow mid-sized groups to rapidly go after the new and unexpected scientific problems that will emerge, but only if the access to the instruments is sufficient. 

I don't know what the right balance is between smaller programs, medium-sized surveys and large science programs.  However, I feel strongly that it is important to maintain  some access for all categories of research groups.

Ian Dell'Antonio

*Disclaimer--these are my own opinions and not necessarily those of the NOAO Users' Committee

Remote Observing

Just in case Currents readers and NOAO users don't follow blogs/social media:

A blog entry on remote observing might help start our conversation...

Services provided...

This was posted in the Facebook group -  Marketing for Scientists -

but I figured this is relevant here because NOAO acts as a similar conduit by providing open access to many observatories (not just those that are officially NOAOs). what do you think?

Smaller Telescopes

I am concerned about the continued health of the smaller (~4m or less) telescopes in an era of big glass. These remain very good instruments and NOAO has done an excellent job continuing to make them accessible to the community with a variety of instruments including those brought by the scientist, i.e., visitor instruments. The trend has been for the newer ~8m class instruments to not have visitor instrument capabilities and the 4m scopes remain the best large aperture option. If the 4m scopes are pre-scheduled for large survey projects requiring vast allotments of time it places another roadblock to getting time on a big telescope with your own observing equipment. Were NOAO to develop some facility instrument with diffraction limited capability which could be remotely observed, or possibly que scheduled, this could possibly alleviate some of these concerns and would provide a new community-wide capability. The community access proposals on the CHARA Array made through NOAO have shown interest in high resolution. While I understand Ian DellAntonio's frustration with multiple approval processes to first secure funding and then secure time, for those of us at institutions which provide support for observing, a portfolio review process would need to provide equitable block allotments of time for those not utilizing the portfolio review route.

Brian Mason

US Naval Observatory

Via remote observing would be

Via remote observing would be probably the best thing to do, implementing remote observing would definitely make things better for those of us who don't have enough time to visit the observatories very often.


Ken Majors

Last updated or reviewed July 7, 2012.