From NOAO: “The US Extremely Large Telescope Program”

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Mark Dickinson


NOAO, the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) Organization, and the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) International Observatory, are continuing our joint effort to develop a US Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) Program.

Giant Magellan Telescope, to be at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Las Campanas Observatory, to be built some 115 km (71 mi) north-northeast of La Serena, Chile, over 2,500 m (8,200 ft) high

TMT-Thirty Meter Telescope, proposed and now approved for Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA4,207 m (13,802 ft) above sea level

Our primary goal is to enable forefront research by the broad US astronomical community via open access to significant shares of observing time with both TMT and GMT. In the coming decade, ELTs with 20-m to 40-m primary mirror diameters will peer out into the Universe with unprecedented sensitivity and angular resolution, enabling scientific investigations beyond the reach of present-day observatories, in nearly all fields of astronomical research from our Solar System to cosmology. The combination of TMT and GMT provides access to both hemispheres and more diverse observing capabilities, enabling integrated science programs that go beyond the reach of a single facility.

In recent news and activities related to the US ELT Program:

The importance of national access to (and federal investment in) these capabilities was again highlighted in the recent Exoplanet Science Strategy report commissioned by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. The report recommended that “the National Science Foundation (NSF) invest in both the GMT and TMT and their exoplanet instrumentation to provide all-sky access to the US Community.”

More than 250 astronomers are currently working together to develop concepts for Key Science Programs (KSPs) using TMT and GMT. KSPs will address questions of fundamental scientific importance that may require tens to hundreds of observing nights with GMT, TMT, or both observatories working in concert, taking advantage of their combined view of the full sky, or of their complementary instrumental capabilities. It is envisioned that KSPs will follow open collaboration models that encourage broad, diverse participation by observers, theorists, and data scientists throughout the US community. More than 85 scientists will gather in Tucson for a KSP Development Workshop in mid-November. If you would like to contribute to KSP development, please register using the on-line form.

Site excavation for the GMT’s concrete pier and enclosure began at Las Campanas Observatory in August, and is expected to take about five months to complete.

The Supreme Court of the State of Hawai’i has upheld an earlier decision by the State Board of Land and Natural Resources to issue a Conservation District Use Permit for the construction of TMT on Maunakea.

See the full article here .


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Stem Education Coalition

NOAO is the US national research & development center for ground-based night time astronomy. In particular, NOAO is enabling the development of the US optical-infrared (O/IR) System, an alliance of public and private observatories allied for excellence in scientific research, education and public outreach.

Our core mission is to provide public access to qualified professional researchers via peer-review to forefront scientific capabilities on telescopes operated by NOAO as well as other telescopes throughout the O/IR System. Today, these telescopes range in aperture size from 2-m to 10-m. NOAO is participating in the development of telescopes with aperture sizes of 20-m and larger as well as a unique 8-m telescope that will make a 10-year movie of the Southern sky.

In support of this mission, NOAO is engaged in programs to develop the next generation of telescopes, instruments, and software tools necessary to enable exploration and investigation through the observable Universe, from planets orbiting other stars to the most distant galaxies in the Universe.

To communicate the excitement of such world-class scientific research and technology development, NOAO has developed a nationally recognized Education and Public Outreach program. The main goals of the NOAO EPO program are to inspire young people to become explorers in science and research-based technology, and to reach out to groups and individuals who have been historically under-represented in the physics and astronomy science enterprise.

The National Optical Astronomy Observatory is proud to be a US National Node in the International Year of Astronomy, 2009.

About Our Observatories:
Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO)

Kitt Peak

Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) has its headquarters in Tucson and operates the Mayall 4-meter, the 3.5-meter WIYN , the 2.1-meter and Coudé Feed, and the 0.9-meter telescopes on Kitt Peak Mountain, about 55 miles southwest of the city.

Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO)

NOAO Cerro Tolo

The Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) is located in northern Chile. CTIO operates the 4-meter, 1.5-meter, 0.9-meter, and Curtis Schmidt telescopes at this site.

The NOAO System Science Center (NSSC)

NOAO Gemini North

Gemini South telescope

The NOAO System Science Center (NSSC) at NOAO is the gateway for the U.S. astronomical community to the International Gemini Project: twin 8.1 meter telescopes in Hawaii and Chile that provide unprecendented coverage (northern and southern skies) and details of our universe.

NOAO is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy under a Cooperative Agreement with the National Science Foundation.