Over the past few months, the CASCA Board has established the OIR committee with the primary objective of conducting a comprehensive review of the optical-infrared ground-based landscape accessible to Canadians, both presently and potentially in the future. The committee’s mandate encompasses the assessment of various factors such as scientific viability, technical readiness, scheduling considerations, and the alignment with community needs and desires. It is important to note that the review of Canada’s involvement in the TMT project will not be within the scope of this committee.
We are delighted to announce that the OIR committee will be co-chaired by Doug Welch from McMaster University and Ivana Damjanov from Saint Mary’s University, who have graciously accepted the role of co-chairs. We are confident that their expertise and leadership will greatly contribute to the committee’s success. The remaining members of the committee will be announced shortly, and their collective knowledge and experience will further enrich the review process.
The committee aims to provide its recommendations by June 30, 2024, in the form of a comprehensive report that will be made available to the public. This report will serve as a valuable resource for the CASCA community, providing insights and guidance for the future of optical-infrared ground-based astronomy in Canada.
Lastly, we would like to share the terms of references that have been adopted by the committee (see below). These terms of reference outline the scope and objectives of the review process, ensuring transparency and accountability throughout the committee’s work.
Thank you for your attention, and we look forward to the fruitful outcomes of the OIR committee’s work.
Julie Hlavacek-Larrondo, on behalf of the CASCA Board
Terms of Reference
CASCA has formed the Optical-Infrared Review (OIR) Committee to assess and address the needs of Canadian researchers in light of developments since the Long Range Plan (LRP) 2020.
Significant developments since the LRP recommendations have become public include:
The successful launch, commissioning, and science operations of the James Webb Space Telescope.
The near-term science operations of the Rubin Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (estimated Jan. 2025), the launch of Euclid (estimated launch July 2023), and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (estimated launch 2026/7).
A moratorium on new leases for observatories has been established in 2022 as the management of Maunakea transitions from the University of Hawai’i to the Maunakea Stewardship and Oversight Authority over the five-year period beginning on 1 July 2023 (Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer after the National Strategic Planning Reviews). This impacts the original timeline for the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope/Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (CFHT/MSE) that included an estimated start of science operations in 2030. The start of the construction phase for MSE on Maunakea would depend on the decision about the CFHT’s site lease renewal at the end of this decade. In the case of a positive outcome, MSE science operations will not commence before the late 2030’s or early 2040’s. By then, the other wide-field multi-object spectrographs already under construction will likely have been taking data for a decade:
– Subaru/PFS (Prime Focus Spectrograph)
– VLT/MOONS (Multi-Object Optical and Near-IR Spectrograph)
– VISTA/4MOST (4-metre Multi-Object Spectrograph Telescope)
– Mayall/DESI (Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument)
The construction of MSE, regardless of when it is built, will result in a gap of science operations at the site of approximately eight years.
The (US) National Science Foundation (NSF) is conducting an environmental review of the Maunakea site in preparation for its potential future investment in the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) as part of the US Extremely Large Telescope Program. The NSF will not make a funding decision until a range of viewpoints and all aspects of the project are considered (UPDATES | March 23, 2023). The final decision was initially expected by the end of 2024 but has now been delayed and will also be influenced by the capacity of the NSF budget available at that time.
As a partner in the Gemini International Observatory, Canada must make a decision for the upcoming Gemini Assessment Point, due in 2024.
The OIR Committee is charged with providing an assessment of optical and infrared facility resources both currently/imminently available to, or needed by, its researchers. This assessment will weigh the feasibility and capacity of the Canadian research community to engage and support the appropriate suite of facilities and will emphasize:
- The needs of Canadian early-career OIR faculty/staff researchers (and other such Canadian researchers needing access to OIR facilities) over the period 2025-2035;
In this assessment, the recommendations from the LRP 2020 will provide the baseline community consensus from that time and those recommendations will be reviewed with respect to developments in the intervening time;
The OIR review will be a similar mid-LRP cycle assessment much as the GAC was for VLOTs;
The community’s needs with respect to 4m-class facilities, recognizing Canada’s existing partnership in the CFHT but also the conclusion of current Large Programs during the period under consideration. Long Range Plan recommendation #22 specifically recognizes that the CFHT situation may need to be re-assessed during this interval and this committee is in a position to provide such an assessment and recommend possible scenarios for 4m-class facility access going forward;
The community’s needs with respect to 8m-class facilities, recognizing Canada’s partnership in the International Gemini Observatory and its existing instrumentation and those instruments that will become available in the near future. The committee will provide input relevant to the Gemini Assessment Point decision due in 2024 and to take effect in late 2027; and
Canada remains a committed partner of the TMT International Observatory. VLOT facility plans and commitments are not directly part of this assessment but it is recognized that among possible recommendations by this committee to serve non-VLOT needs, some may provide possible VLOT access.
The Committee will comprise both senior and early career researchers and will have non-voting stakeholders and subject matter expertise from relevant stakeholders, including NRC and ACURA. It will also include at least one senior expert member from outside Canada.
The Committee will consult broadly with the Canadian community and will also be informed by:
- The research plans and aspirations of current early-career researchers, including both observers and instrumentalists;
Data on OIR facility demand and archive use;
Current and projected budget allocations, operations costs and joining fees (where applicable);
Data on the role of OIR facilities and archive use in recent publications. Here, the international picture of which OIR facilities are providing significant impact will be sought;
The Committee will endeavor to provide its recommendations by June 30, 2024. The report will be made public.
Footnote Throughout “OIR facility/facilities” refers both to the resources currently available to the Canadian astronomical community and to other facilities (currently in operation or coming online shortly) that may be of interest to Canadian astronomers.