JCMT Update

By Doug Johnstone, Associate Director JCMT

Countdown! September has arrived and I am now in the last month of my secondment to the Joint Astronomy Centre as Associate Director JCMT. It is hard to believe that two years have passed so very quickly, and of course, there still seems to be a great deal left to accomplish before the end of the month, including this Newsletter piece.

As usual, in this update I will describe recent events at the JCMT, including progress within the JCMT Legacy Surveys, a recap of Semester 14A, and the present status of the JCMT Science Archive. For details on the on-going efforts to transfer the JCMT to an East Asian consortium, please refer to the article in the Summer Solstice edition (June 2014) on the ‘Continuing Evolution of the JCMT’, by Gary Davis, Director of the JAC.

The showcase science programme at the JCMT remains the JCMT Legacy Survey (JLS), covering debris disks, star formation near and far within our Galaxy, nearby Galaxies, and cosmology. Over the last nine months we have managed to increase the completion fraction of the survey, from about 50% to over 75%, despite a dismal winter for sub-millimetre observing on Maunakea. All six of the SCUBA-2 legacy surveys now have a majority of their observations in hand, with the debris disk survey reaching 100% completion in August. Our recent efforts to streamline the observing process and extend observing into the morning hours through limited remote operations have clearly paid off. Of course it also helps when the nightly fault rate for the telescope drops well below 5% of clear-sky time – an impressive threshold for a twenty-seven year old telescope with complex cryogenic and superconducting instrumentation. Kudos and mahalo to the dedicated JAC staff!

We anticipate that JLS observations will be taken throughout much of the Fall as negotiations continue with the East Asian consortium, soon to be known as the East Asian Observatory (EAO), on the smooth transfer of the telescope. Looking further into the future, it is clear that large legacy surveys will be a continuing tradition at the JCMT, and Canadians are being asked to help define these priorities. A number of us will be taking part in a meeting in the UK near the end of September where new and expanded surveys for the JCMT will be developed. Christine Wilson (McMaster) continues to lead the Canadian effort for continued JCMT involvement beyond the NRC Herzberg era.

As Semester 14A nears conclusion, a bittersweet moment for Canada was reached on Thursday, August 13th with the last night of Canadian observing under NRC Herzberg management. Both JAC Director Gary Davis and I were there to mark the occasion, along with UBC graduate student Todd Mackenzie (see attached photo). Todd’s connection to the JCMT started while an undergraduate student. Working as a co-op student at NRC Herzberg with James Di Francesco and me, he helped produce SCUBA Legacy images and catalogues. Now Todd is using SCUBA-2 data as part of his PhD thesis, under the direction of Douglas Scott. Despite having to note the end of an era, I am pleased to announce that Canadian PI’s did extremely well with their share of the flexible telescope time this last semester. Six of the seven top proposals in the Canadian queue obtained at least 95% of their requested observing time. The outlier proposal was, unfortunately, a target of opportunity that simply did not trigger.

In the 2013 Winter Solstice edition I discussed the importance of the JCMT Science Archive (JSA) as part of the legacy of the JCMT. This effort, a collaboration between the JAC and the CADC at NRC Herzberg in Victoria, has been extremely active over the last year. Regular JSA users will have already noticed the simplified interface through which they now search the archive. For those daunted by this change, a helpful primer on searching the JSA is available on the JAC web-page (follow the link from the JCMT landing page at the CADC). Further JSA effort includes a plan for the uniform reduction and cataloguing of all public JCMT SCUBA-2 data residing in the archive. Initial pipeline processing for this effort is now underway and these legacy data products should start to become available through the archive in late Spring 2015. Together with the individual JCMT Legacy Survey team reductions, which are specially designed to pick out science-goal specific features such as point sources or extended structure, these uniformly reduced data products will provide a lasting legacy for the JAC era at the JCMT.

It feels extremely strange to be saying good-bye to the JCMT at this time. This is especially true given that I have spent the last few months working closely with the Director to help secure a long-term future for the JCMT through its transfer to EAO, espousing my admiration and respect for the telescope, its staff, and its community at every opportunity. Just last week I was in Japan at an NAOJ JCMT workshop and next week I will be in the UK to help design future legacy surveys. It is my great hope that despite my formal departure, I will continue to be intimately involved with the JCMT, both as a scientist, making use of its fantastic instrumentation, and as an advocate, providing support and constructive criticism to the new management. Long live the JCMT.

Todd Mackenzie, Doug Johnstone, and Gary Davis in the JCMT control room on the last night of Canadian observing under NRC management. (Photo Credit: T. McLaughlin)

Todd Mackenzie, Doug Johnstone, and Gary Davis in the JCMT control room on the last night of Canadian observing under NRC management. (Photo Credit: T. McLaughlin)

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