The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) has submitted its report to the National Science Foundation (NSF) as input to the Senior Review of astronomical facilities supported by the NSF Astronomy Division (AST). This NRAO report is available on-line (click here for the 3 MB pdf). The report was prepared by the Observatory's staff with input from a cross-section of the astronomical community. Given the potential impact of the Senior Review on the U.S. astronomy infrastructure, further comments on the report by the community are essential and welcome.
The goal of the NSF-AST Senior Review is to identify $30M of annual funding, as a target, within the AST Division by 2011 in order to fund the design and development of future high-priority projects such as the Giant Segmented Mirror Telescope (GSMT), the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), and the operation of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA). Guided by the Senior Review, the NSF will make important decisions regarding the selective reduction of current federally-funded facilities so that new initiatives can be funded. Community involvement is absolutely crucial in order to assess whether the proposed changes lead to a vital, sustainable future for astronomy, or whether the proposed pace and scope of the changes are too drastic.
The NRAO currently operates a system of complementary centimeter-wavelength radio telescopes the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, the Very Large Array, the Very Long Baseline Array and the Central Development Laboratory. The NRAO is also building Phase I of the Expanded Very Large Array, replacing the VLA by a new facility which has 10 times the sensitivity and 1000 times the spectral capability. The NRAO is also responsible for the North American part of the construction and operation of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, an international facility that will be 100 times more powerful than the present facilities at millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths. Both the EVLA and ALMA will be fully operational by 2012.
In 2011, the NRAO will be the premier radio observatory providing the astronomy community a remarkable suite of extremely powerful and complementary telescopes that will form the "radio cornerstone" of a system of leading astronomical facilities that span the radio, optical-infrared, X-ray, and gamma-ray wavelength regions. These NRAO facilities will enable astronomers to directly observe the formation of stars and planetary systems, the first galaxies and active galactic nuclei, and to address many issues at the frontiers of physics via astronomical observations. The exceptional breadth and depth of the NRAO's facilities, and the Observatory's expertise and experience in radio-astronomical science and technology, have taken 50 years to build, resulting in a NRAO that is recognized by many as an essential resource for astronomy in the United States and, indeed, in the world.
A Senior Review of the portfolio of facilities supported by the NSF AST is a necessary process to evaluate the costs and benefits of these facilities and to prioritize spending, especially at this time of budget pressure when many worthwhile new projects are awaiting funding. However, care must be taken to avoid irreparable damage to existing U.S astronomy infrastructure in this process. The balance between supporting those existing facilities which give U.S. astronomy a competitive advantage and initiating new projects which will maintain that competitive position is a very delicate one.
Please e-mail your comments and input regarding the NRAO and the NSF Senior Review to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your input is extremely important. I look forward to hearing from you.
Fred K.Y. Lo