UCOAC Meeting 45
University of California Observatories Advisory Committee
The UCO Advisory Committee met at UC Santa Cruz on Friday, January 12, 2007. Attending were: Mike Bolte (UCSC; Director), Tommaso Treu (UCSB), Geoff Marcy (UCB), Gary Chanan (UCI), Jerry Nelson (UCSC), Claire Max (UCSC), Alex Filippenko (UCB; Chair), Dave Tytler (UCSD), Ian McLean (UCLA), Maureen McLean (UCSC), and Rem Stone (Mt. Hamilton). Michael Rich (UCLA) attended by video. These notes are provided by Ian McLean (with some editing by Alex Filippenko and Mike Bolte).
1. Welcome and Introductions by Alex Filippenko
It was reported to all present that Don Osterbrock had passed away suddenly the previous day, at the age of 82. This was very sad news to all as Don was a powerful figure in UC astronomy and Lick Director during the years 1973-1981. Everyone attended an impromptu lunchtime memorial for Don.
2. Presentation by Mike Bolte
Discussion: To make the Nickel telescope really useful, Alex recommends opening it up to more users (e.g., well-qualified undergraduate research assistants) and reducing some of the barriers (e.g., UCB users currently have to use the Keck remote observing room at LBNL); otherwise it will remain underused. But Mike is concerned about safety issues and about software issues; these generally require the user to go to one of the remote Keck observing rooms (UCSC, UCLA, UCSD, and LBNL). Perhaps Bob Kibrick needs to define a simpler computer system (such as a set of special-purpose laptop computers) that the undergrads at other places can use.
Several people feel that the Lick guiders are not sensitive enough and the pointing is not good enough. Basically, these systems are not consistent with the power of the 3-m telescope.
Mike then discussed Lick upgrades in the near future. Electronics upgrades are needed all over the mountain – for example, CCDs and motor controllers for the Hamilton and Kast spectrographs. Tony Misch and Graeme Smith (respectively) will coordinate these tasks. Professor Connie Rockosi (UCSC; Packard Fellowship) has proposed to improve the LGS AO system with a new IR camera. Lick is still being used as a testbed for new AO technologies. Don Gavel is pushing forward to develop a MEMs-based AO system to be tested first at the 1-m Nickel; the project is called Villages.
Mike feels that we need to be open to new science opportunities, especially from younger faculty in the system. We also need to improve our education and outreach activities. Geoff Marcy has already made a start and we should take up the challenge. Michael Rich asked if education funding might be available. Geoff suggests that we try to pool many small grants to enable us to employ someone to operate a small telescope at night for the public. It needs to pay for itself, but it could be very important for attracting future donors to the Observatory.
The APF telescope is in Tucson awaiting the primary mirror, but figuring is now converging. The dome is nearly completed on Mt. Hamilton and the spectrometer assembly is about 90% complete. Funding challenges exist and are being addressed.
New ideas for Lick include placing the old 12-in Clark telescope (refurbished) back in the Nickel dome and moving the Nickel telescope to the Astrograph dome. The 36-in refractor end of the mountain would become “public” and the Nickel would go to the 3-m end of the hill, so all the science telescopes would be grouped together. There is a potential donor for this project. Also, there is a plan to convert the 3-m library into an elegant lounge.
Mike’s final point is that it is now time to develop a Strategic Plan for Mt. Hamilton. What do we want it to be in 5, 10, or 20 years? He will form a group to develop a vision plan.
Discussion: Geoff asked about the role and purpose of the UCOAC. Mike replied by saying that his goals for the UCOAC are as follows:
The UC Office of the President (UCOP) recognizes the formal nature of this committee, which is good because it avoids another layer of oversight that UCOP would normally establish. The UCOAC needs to improve the feedback to UCOP and the Chancellors of all UC campuses, especially outside UCSC. We also need to change the UCOAC membership somewhat, adding someone from UC Davis (which has many astronomers) and perhaps UC Riverside.
People like the Newsletter idea. We could also follow this up with a UCOAC telecom for more sensitive discussions. We should also have a password-protected web site.
2.2. TMT Update
The TMT project office has elected to make larger segments (1.43 m) in order to reduce the number of segments to 492. At 30 m, the “cone” effect is serious. The plan is to use 6 laser beacons (25W each) and tomographic reconstruction. HIA will build the AO system (NFIRAOS). The instrument plan includes IRIS, WFOS, IRMOS, HROS, MIRES, and PFI. More recently it was suggested that a MOSFIRE replica would also work.
Site testing efforts have been under way at 3 sites in Chile, San Pedro Martir, and Mauna Kea. UC and CIT have a special interest in Mauna Kea, but the politics may be very difficult.
AURA (NSF) has withdrawn from the Board and from the Science Advisory Committee. NOAO employees now have to be paid out of Moore Foundation funds. These are Draconian measures, for both TMT and GMT. So, the question is, do we go forward with 3 partners? Is such a model viable? Operations costs are the big question. Or, do we scale back the aperture to what we can afford, or do we look for another partner? The project estimated the cost of a 25-m telescope to be about the same as that of a 30 m, and no savings on schedule. This sounded bizarre to all.
In the current business plan, UC is to raise capital funds from private sources and also provide funds for operations. The operations would have to come from UCOP, which would need support from all of the UC Chancellors. The full construction proposal will be ready by the fourth quarter of 2007. First light of TMT is projected to be 2015. There will be a 2-day science meeting for TMT in July 2007.
Discussion: It was asked whether our share of TMT (and Keck) is sufficient for the future (growing) faculty of UC. Maybe we need more time than Caltech does on Keck and on TMT.
2.3. Other Interesting Things
Mike Bolte is also floating the idea of a UCO 6.5-m Magellan clone at San Pedro Martir for LSST and Pan-STARRS follow-up observations, rather than making Keck a good time-domain facility. This telescope, which is attractive for private funding, could have ESI on one Nasmyth platform and NIRES on the other. The UCOAC agreed that it was interesting to gather more information on this possibility.
2.4. Keck Observatory Update
Other highlights of 2006 included the successful Keck Science Meeting at UC Irvine in September 2006, including the Strategic Planning Meeting organized by Ian McLean and Tom Soifer as SSC co-chairs. The Laser Guide Star AO is doing extremely well; we are now up to 70 nights per semester with AO.
The UCO role: Mike suggests that we (UCO) should be more involved in supporting the Hawaii-based development projects for improvement and renewal, even if WMKO would like to do more development themselves. The SSC co-chairs agree. WMKO has run into some difficulties with their development projects.
Next Generation Adaptive Optics (NGAO) is the big new concept under development for Keck. A 200-page proposal to the SSC last summer got everyone excited. The project is now in the development phase and once again is a good example of a distributed effort. We only have about $1M for this right now, but this is the major target for fundraising at the $40M-$50M level. NGAO is a strongly distributed effort. If funded, this will be a big effort at all places.
We need durable high-performance coatings. Again, UCO could help with this activity. Finally, Keck Observatory software is now obsolete and this is a major undertaking where UCO could also help.
Discussion: Gary Chanan related the experience of re-writing the PCS camera software. The porting of the software has finally occurred, but it was extremely troublesome. In doing this, WMKO took a reliable system and made it bug-ridden. Mike Bolte agrees that we need to take control of many of these tasks.
Other Activities: The ADC is now out in Hawaii. It will start commissioning in late January. Spin-coating had to be developed at UC Santa Cruz. This was an outstanding success. The LRIS-R upgrade is moving along with the new LBNL CCDs. MOSFIRE is the other big project and is a very good example of a multi-campus collaboration. Ian is the PI, Chuck Steidel is the Project Scientist, Keith Matthews is the instrument scientist, and Harland Epps is the optical designer. Ian described MOSFIRE in more detail later.
When TSIP became available, we agreed that we could accommodate the exchange of 24 nights/year at $100K/night for 5 years. After OSIRIS, KIRMOS, and MOSFIRE, we find ourselves undersold by 10 nights. These have been sold to NASA for Keck-I bright time (HIRES only) for $90K/night. The SSC has reminded the Observatory that this agreement to exchange nights should be ratified if we desire to extend it beyond the originally agreed 120 nights.
Archives: NASA funded a HIRES archive for a while, partially at Keck and at the Michelson Science Center. There was a previous discussion about the proprietary periods. An acceptable agreement was reached with Geoff Marcy for the new data, but it is cumbersome. Now, there is a NASA move to archive the earlier data, too. There is general support for the NASA-funded archive effort; however, any reasonable requests from UC PIs to extend the proprietary period will be granted.
3. UCLA IR Lab Status: Ian McLean
The two major projects are MOSFIRE for Keck (PI McLean) and GPI for Gemini South; James Larkin is PI for the OSIRIS-like back-end IFU. MOSFIRE is approaching detailed design review (April) and the PDR for GPI will probably be in late May.
MOSFIRE is an extremely challenging instrument. The primary feature of MOSFIRE is the Cryogenic Slit Unit which allows up to 46 slits of 0.7″ × 7.3″ (for R = 3200; 3 pixels) to be located anywhere over a 6′ × 3′ field of view. In imaging mode the field of view is 6.1′ × 6.1′.
UCLA supported the post-earthquake repair of OSIRIS and the checkout of NIRSPEC (which was not damaged). The twin-channel (Gemini) camera is currently at UCLA, to find and repair a problem with the InSb detector.
They are currently refurbishing the IR Lab facilities at UCLA. A new large laboratory space has been allocated in the basement of the new Physics and Astronomy Building. This space is now fully operational. The Clean Room from the old 6th-floor location is now in the basement, along with FLITECAM, Gemini, and the test chambers. The 6th-floor office space has been expanded and converted into a suite of design offices, meeting areas, computer servers and storage facilities, electronics rooms, and small-scale developments.
The current annual budget of the UCO/UCLA IR Lab runs around $2M which, apart from $300K from UCO (3% of the UCO budget) and some UCLA funds, comes entirely from contracts and grants. Finally, a search is underway for an Academic Coordinator/Instrument Program Manager to assist Ian and James, and to work at the highest level of management and organization. The lab also has openings for an ME and EE. UCLA plans to start a new search for a faculty member with an interest in instrumentation in the fall of 2007. Ian remains co-chair of the SSC until June 2007, at which point he will rotate off the SSC after some 10 years of service.
Finally, UCLA commissioned its Keck Remote Observing Facility with funds from UCO and about $30K of UCLA-paid facility upgrades.
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