GAC Statement on the Future of CFHT (April 30, 2013)

The CFHT has been a cornerstone of the Canadian ground-based optical-nearIR program for over three decades. Because of its age, there have been recent proposals to make changes to the facility and/or its operational model. The GAC is aware of two long-term options that have been proposed for the future of the CFHT: (1) conduct a major re-building program that will result in a facility with a larger aperture and a compelling scientific focus (ngCFHT), or (2) maintain the current aperture and conduct dedicated long-term surveys. There is potential for timing conflicts between these options, and there is consensus among the GAC that the ngCFHT should take precedence. While there may be scientific merit to the surveys that would be conducted as part of the second option, the GAC feels that the ngCFHT concept presents a timely opportunity to build a large forefront facility for spectroscopic follow-up of ground-based imaging surveys, thereby preparing the Canadian community for the era of very large aperture telescopes. Any surveys with the existing CFHT should then be designed to be completed within a timespan that will not delay the development of a larger aperture facility. If this policy is not implemented then there is a risk that the Canadian community will be left with a 3.6 meter telescope in the very large telescope era that will be even more obsolete than it is now. This is a bleak prospect for a site that is recognized as being one of the best on the planet.
The GAC endorses the science case for the ngCFHT. There is consensus that the ngCFHT would be a scientifically important part of the Canadian ground-based facility suite well into the future. The ngCFHT will offer impressive and unique state of the art capabilities that will be of interest to a broad part of the Canadian astronomy community. The wide field capabilities proposed for the ngCFHT will complement those of existing (e.g. Gemini, which has a smaller science field and is IR-optimized) and planned (e.g. the TMT) ground-based facilities. There have been statements of interest from potential new partners who would like to participate in developing the ngCFHT, and the GAC recommends that these relationships be cultivated. It is recognized that new partnerships may lead to fine-tuning of ngCFHT capabilities, and the GAC stresses the importance of Canada retaining a `second to none` share in the ngCFHT to maintain control in how the ngCFHT is to be developed and run.
The GAC recognizes that there is a need to act quickly to start detailed planning for the ngCFHT so that it will be ready in time to play an enabling role for new facilities, such as the TMT and SKA. Such detailed planning will also allow the Canadian community to claim ownership of the parameter space that will be offered by the ngCFHT, and help attract the partners that are critical for the ngCFHT to be built. Thus, the GAC recommends that a Project Office be set up in a timely manner to start work on developing a new facility at the CFHT site.
A statement regarding CFHT future has also been recently released by CASCA’s Long Range Plan Implementation Committee.
Comments and suggestions can be submitted through the Public GAC Discussion Page.

Background information:


Comments are closed.