Friday, August 13, 2010

Listening to the Astro2010 Decadal Survey

Here are some streaming comments as I'm listening to results of the 2010 Decadal Survey. A shortlink to the report is here.

11:10 am EDT: Excellent placement of "what were the first luminous objects, and when did they form" second from the top of "Major questions to address this decade".

11:20 am EDT: Ooh, even better. "Cosmic Dawn" is the first of the 3 over-arching fields. Good fielding for EoR as a top science priority in the next decade!

11:23 am EDT: Now we're starting into descriptions of the panels. I was involved in several of the RMS (Radio, Millimeter, and Submillimeter) submissions, and am looking for HERA (the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array). I'm also rooting for the Allen Telescope Array's Radio Sky Surveys Project. Finally, I'm hoping for some mention in the TEC (Technology development) program of prioritizing the development of shared solutions to digital signal processing hardware and libraries, which was the recommendation of a white paper I drafted with the help of the CASPER community.

11:45 am EDT: Mention of SKA as a priority for Radio Astronomy, unsurprisingly.

11:47 am EDT: Looks like Roger's wrapping up here. Turning to Q&A.

Meanwhile, I'm reading through the report. I see radio instrumentation is listed as a funding priority on ES-4, linking to 7-39. A good sign.

A painful line on 1-18: "U.S. participation in projects such as the Square Kilometer Array is possible only if there is either a significant increase in NSF-AST funding or continuing closure of additional unique and highly productive facilities." Ouch.

But on 2-12, my own sky map (well, with "permissions pending" for now). Now that's something!

12:01 pm EDT: An interesting question. "Why such a priority on habitable planets in the decadal review?" Sounds like the answer is that it's particularly primed to make big breakthroughs. I think I agree with that. I wasn't surprised that it was on there. There's some rumors going around that Kepler has found earth-like planets in earth-like orbits.

12:02 pm EDT: What about the surplus of post-docs relative to faculty positions? Answer: there are a wide range of careers and positions available to astronomers, so it's not unreasonable to have a larger number of post-doc positions where budding astronomers get training. I'm not sure that answer fully appreciates the scale of the problem.

Continuing with reading, on page 3-13, "The HERA program, a project that was highly ranked by the RMS-PPP and included by the committee in its list of compelling cases for a competed mid-scale program at NSF, provides a development pathway for the SKA-low facility. Progress on development of the SKA-mid pathfinder instruments, the Allen Telescope Array in the U.S., the MeerKAT in South Africa and the ASKAP in Australia, and in new instruments and new observing modes on the existing facilities ... will provide crucial insight into the optimal path towards a full SKA-mid." That's good to see mentioned. Sounds like it lays the groundwork for a strong future proposal to get funded. It's not a promise of funding, though. Not that such a promise was expected.

12:11 pm EDT: Second use of "tripwires" for projects. A very colorful phrase.

Interesting plot on 4-15: papers in all astronomy fields are increasing. Instrumentation papers seem to be low in number, but holding their own against other fields (same percentage contribution to total paper number).

On 5-14 for Data Reduction and Analysis Software: "Flexibility, openness, and platform independence, modularity, and public dissemination are essential to this effort. Focused investment in a series of small-scale initiatives for common tool development ... may be the most cost-effective approach, although there are undoubtedly synergies with the pipeline development needed for the large-scale projects." Sounds helpful for some of my projects like AIPY, SPEAD, and CASPER.

12:18 pm EDT: Comments on the SKA? Answer: SKA is the future, but the US can't pay for the construction on the proposed time scale (but slower might be ok). Technology development should be prioritized though. Low-frequency SKA, though, targets EoR, and we're interested in projects targeting that. Yes!

On 5-21 for Technology Development: "The committee received community input in the form of white papers on the funding needs for technology development in areas such as ... high speed, large N correlators. In these areas and others, researchers ... had come together to plan a coherent strategy for the decade. The OIR and RMS panels made a convincing case that the current level of ATI funding needs to be augmented in order to successfully pursue these highly-ranked technology development programs and roadmaps." Looks like my white paper fell on receptive ears.

12:28 pm EDT: Neil Tyson is closing down Q&A. He is one cool dude. I'm glad he was on the panel.

On 7-7 for Science Objectives for the Decade: "Find and explore the epoch of reionization using hydrogen line observations starting with the HERA telescopes that are already under construction." Wham. And in Table 7.1 on 7-32, Priority 2, Projects thought compelling: HERA.

On B-2 for Program Priorization, in Table B.1, I see both ATA and HERA. I'd say ATA didn't necessarily win big in the review, but at least they're there.

And finally, in appendix D-1: "Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array ... is a multi- stage project in radio astronomy to understand how hydrogen is ionized after the first stars start to shine. The first phase (HERA I) is under way and will demonstrate the feasibility of the technical approach. The second phase (HERA II) would serve as a pathfinder for an eventual world-wide effort in the following decade to construct a facility with a total collecting area of a square kilometer and the power to make detailed maps of this critical epoch in the history of the universe. Proceeding with HERA II should be subject to HERA I meeting stringent performance requirements in its ability to achieve system calibration and the removal of cosmic foreground emission." We've got our work cut out for us!