By / par Patrick Hall (MSE Management Group Member)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2022)
MSE and Astro2020
MSE and wide-field optical spectroscopy faired well in last year’s Astro2020 report (“Pathways to Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 2020s”, U. S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2021). The report reads, in part:
“Recommendation: The National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Astronomical Sciences (AST) should create three tracks within the AST Mid-Scale Innovations Program … The strategic priorities track is an essential addition to the existing mid-scale program structure to ensure that it is responsive to decadal and community strategic priorities. The survey has identified one top priority for this element, a time-domain astrophysics program, and two co-equal areas – highly multiplexed spectroscopy and radio instrumentation. … There is very strong support for massively multiplexed spectroscopy across many sectors of the science community. … A dedicated facility would of course provide advantages over relying solely on existing infrastructure. Most glaring is the lack of high spectral resolution (R~20,000) multi-object spectrographs. … MSE and SpecTel presented plans to the panel for such a mode. … In all cases, the United States could envision playing a significant role in these projects through a MSRI-2-level investment, which could provide up to about 20 percent of the cost of a project like MSE, SpecTel, or up to about 50 percent of MegaMapper, perhaps split with DOE.”
From the MSE collaboration’s official statement, available here:
“The 2010 decadal plan highlighted the need for large telescopes and deep imaging surveys to explore the universe,” said Jennifer Marshall, MSE Project Scientist and associate professor at Texas A&M University. “We have built the MSE science case over the past decade with the understanding that multi-object spectroscopy is the natural follow-up to those large projects.”
Strengths encompass two of three of Astro2020’s priorities for mid-sized projects: time domain astronomy and highly multiplexed optical spectroscopy. The MSE detailed science case outlines the compelling science that MSE will execute, much of which falls within the three main science themes identified by Astro2020: “Worlds and Suns in Context” (exoplanets), “New Messengers and New Physics” (transient astrophysics), and “Cosmic Ecosystems” (the evolution of galaxies).
Regarding the State of the Profession, one of the committee’s recommendations is that “the astronomy community should work with representatives from local communities to define a Community Astronomy model of engagement that advances scientific research while respecting, empowering and benefiting the local community.” The MSE collaboration welcomes this recommendation, along with the other recommendations regarding diversity, equity and inclusion, broadening the academic pipeline, and working with our indigenous and local communities here in Hawai’i.
The CFHT board is “committed to the Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer as the future of the facility. The Board is confident that, following deeply rooted CFHT practices, the MSE project will be respectful of our privilege to share the cosmos from Maunakea, and will continue CFHT’s long-standing history of engaging the Hawai’i Island community.”
MSE/CFHT plan to propose to NSF to develop an end-to-end Pathfinder: a multi object spectrograph fed at prime focus from the Canada France Hawaii Telescope. It will utilize the MSE spectrograph design and a scaled down fiber positioner (approximately 800 fibers) using the same technology as the fiber positioner for MSE.
The goal of the Pathfinder will be to retire many of the high-level technical risks for MSE by demonstrating on-sky the ability of the major hardware and software components of MSE, with the end result of an initial science product being produced and shared with the community. Construction of either the optical or the near-IR arms of the MSE spectrographs would achieve these goals. It is envisioned that the proposal to NSF will be led by MSE/CFHT, with co-investigators from US universities and NOIRLab.
The Pathfinder fibers will subtend one arcsecond on the sky but because of CFHT’s smaller aperture will be one-third the physical diameter of the fibers for MSE. Thus, the spectrographs offer the possibility of spectral resolution two or even three times that delivered for MSE (10,000 or potentially 15,000 instead of 5,000). A rough estimate of sensitivity is that the Pathfinder will reach AB=22 at wavelengths longer than 400 nm at SNR=2 per resolution element in one hour.
MSE/CFHT are actively seeking input on science projects for both the optical and near-IR Pathfinder options. Key projects are envisioned to be galactic archeology, stellar spectroscopy for abundances and stellar evolution studies, and time-domain astrophysics (specifically, follow-up of transients to demonstrate the dynamic scheduling capabilities that will be possible with MSE).
If you are interested in the MSE Pathfinder, you can receive updates by joining the MSE Science Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MSE/WFMOS and CFI
In parallel to the pathfinder efforts, Canadian proponents of WFMOS (Wide-Field Multi-Object Spectroscopy) are submitting a CFI proposal to obtain funding for a targeted set of conceptual and preliminary design needs widely applicable to all potential 10-meter-class WFMOS facilities, including but not limited to MSE. CFI envelope funding have been allocated at York, Waterloo, UBC, Toronto, Saint Mary’s, Western and Manitoba.
The proposal encompasses work on WFMOS facility enclosures, on software needed for end-to-end survey design & implementation, near-real-time survey optimization, and data reduction & analysis, and on the fiber-optic multiplexing systems and spectrographs required to meet the stringent scientific requirements of these facilities. Questions regarding the proposal can be directed to Pat Hall.
MSE Project Scientist
Prof. Jennifer Marshall plans to step down as Project Scientist later this year. She states, “I have thoroughly enjoyed working with all of you for the past three years, and going forward I fully intend to stay very engaged with the project and with all of you.”
The MSE Project office is now seeking nominations for a new Project Scientist. The detailed job description can be found here.
While the position is unpaid, there are financial and other benefits that come with the position, including the potential for MSE to provide funding for travel, summer salary support, and teaching buyout. Partial-time candidates will be fully considered. The position is open to mid-career and senior scientists. “The next Project Scientist will have the benefit of getting to work with the very excellent leadership team in the Project Office, which has been a pleasure for me. I have thoroughly enjoyed serving in this position and I’m sure my successor will also–as you all know, MSE is a great project!”
Your MSE Representatives for Canada
MSE Science Advisory Group Members: Ting Li (U Toronto) and Kim Venn (U Victoria)
MSE Management Group Members: Laura Ferrarese (HAA) and Patrick Hall (York U)
Canada is also represented among the MSE Science Team Working Group Leads by Prof. Ting Li (U. Toronto, Astrophysical Tests of Dark Matter WG co-Lead) and Prof. Will Percival (U. Waterloo, Cosmology WG co-Lead).