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July 2009  •  Volume 2 Number 2  •  Archive

Good Planning Leads to Informed Decisions

Suzanne Jacoby and Sidney Wolff

In these days of limited funds to pursue increasingly ambitious goals in scientific research, it is more important than ever to prioritize projects. And so the National Research Council (NRC) is again engaging the community in a review process to survey the field of space- and ground-based astronomy and astrophysics and recommend priorities that will influence funding decisions. Every ten years this Decadal Survey process unfolds, resulting in a concise report addressed to relevant funding agencies and read by Congressional committees with jurisdiction over those agencies, the scientific community, and the public. A high ranking in this survey is critical for projects seeking construction funding from the federal government in the next decade. The current decadal survey, Astro2010, is well into its mission of assessing activities in astronomy and astrophysics, including both new and previously identified concepts, and recommending priorities for the most important scientific and technical activities of the decade 2010-2020. LSST is participating fully in the process and made a presentation at the most recent meeting of the Optical and Infrared Prioritization Panel in Pasadena, CA.

Astro2010, the current astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey, is the latest in a series of surveys that are produced every 10 years by the National Research Council (NRC) of The National Academy of Sciences. The survey statement of task, structure, committee/panel membership, and community input processes are described online, along with an FAQ. Astro2010 is organized by the NRC’s Board on Physics and Astronomy (BPA) in cooperation with the Space Studies Board (SSB). LSST has been assigned to the Optical and Infrared (O/IR) panel of Astro2010. As one of the four Astro2010 Program Prioritization Panels (PPP), the O/IR panel is charged with recommending a prioritized, balanced, and integrated research program, which includes a rank ordering of research activities and a balanced technology development program for observatories and telescopes that primarily observe in the optical and infrared from the ground.

White Papers

In order to survey the community, the survey committee issued a solicitation in January for White Papers on science, facilities, and the state of the profession, resulting in more than 600 responses. Over 150 Notices of Interest for Activities were submitted, including one for LSST. This was followed by more than 320 Science White Papers in February, along with 69 State of the Profession Position Papers, and over 70 papers on Development Technology and Theory, Computation, and Laboratory Astrophysics. At least 17 Community Town Hall meetings held across the country have provided the astronomy and astrophysics community the opportunity to self-organize and develop coordinated input into the Astro2010 survey process. The input from these events has been very valuable to deliberations within the survey; all White Papers are available online.

The survey committee responded with a Request for Information about each project, including LSST, and so teams of LSST scientists and engineers prepared a 19-page response, which was followed by more detailed answers to eight questions posed by the Astro2010 O/IR Panel. These questions ranged from the scientific importance of the u-band to our plans for data distribution. This response was provided in writing and also orally to the O/IR panel in Pasadena in June.

Science Book

Parallel to this effort of supplying information to the Astro2010 committees, LSST science collaboration teams have been working for months on the LSST Science Book under the leadership of Michael Strauss, Science Committee Chairman, and LSST Director, Tony Tyson. As described in the December 2008 issue of E-News, authoring the book began in earnest with a meeting in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington, with Zeljko Ivezic, Chair of the LSST Science Council, organizing the meeting and keeping all attendees hard at work. The purpose of the book is to lay out some of the important scientific problems that can be addressed only through the rich data set that will be provided by LSST. Many of these ideas originated at the June 2008 All Hands Meeting in Urbana-Champaign, where each science collaboration team reported on ten science initiatives that require LSST. Considerable collaborative work over the ensuing months resulted in the Science Book, with over 500 pages and an author list of 194 individuals. Version 1.0 of this extraordinary work was presented to the O/IR panel during the LSST response.

AAS Meeting

The 214th meeting of the American Astronomical Society took place June 7-11 in Pasadena, CA, concurrent with meetings of the four Astro2010 Program Prioritization Panels. Tony Tyson, speaking on behalf of the LSST team, made a presentation to the O/IR panel. The written submissions will be made public on a short time scale by the Astro2010 committee at the URL mentioned previously.

LSST Science Book cover

Version 1.0 of the LSST Science Book unveiled June 2009.

In an email addressed to the Science Collaborations, Tony reported that “a vivid part of our presentation was the unveiling of our 195-author 554-page Science Book, which clearly demonstrated that LSST will be a survey by the community for the community. I would like to use this opportunity to thank you all for your hard work on the Book and your support for LSST. We should all be especially appreciative of the enormous amount of dedicated work by Michael Strauss and our editorial team to produce this initial version in time to present it to the Astro2010 committee. With additional analysis and improvements to be incorporated over the summer, we expect to announce the first publicly distributed version this fall.”

Next Steps

Work on the LSST Science Book continues this month, with team members participating in the Aspen Center for Physics summer workshop on Wide-Fast-Deep Surveys: New Astrophysics Frontier. We continue to prepare for our Preliminary Design Review, which will be conducted by the National Science Foundation. Results of the Decadal Survey process will be made public in the summer of 2010.


LSST is a public-private partnership. Funding for design and development activity comes from the National Science Foundation, private donations, grants to universities, and in-kind support at Department of Energy laboratories and other LSSTC Institutional Members:

Brookhaven National Laboratory; California Institute of Technology; Carnegie Mellon University; Chile; Columbia University; Drexel University; Google, Inc.; Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Johns Hopkins University; Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology - Stanford University; Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network, Inc.; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Los Alamos National Laboratory; National Optical Astronomy Observatory; Princeton University; Purdue University; Research Corporation for Science Advancement; Rutgers University; SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory; Space Telescope Science Institute; The Pennsylvania State University; The University of Arizona; University of California at Davis; University of California at Irvine; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; University of Pennsylvania; University of Pittsburgh; University of Washington; Vanderbilt University

LSST E-News is a free email publication of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope Project. It is for informational purposes only, and the information is subject to change without notice.

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