Pier Oddone comments on WFIRST and LSST

From Director’s Corner in Fermilab Today: Last week the National Research Council unveiled the Decadal Survey of astronomy and astrophysics, “New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics.” Professor Roger Blandford, who headed the survey for the last two years, presented the survey at a meeting held at the National Academy and webcast to many institutions around the world.

The Decadal Survey is a remarkable enterprise of the astronomical and astrophysical communities. It occurs roughly every 10 years, with broad participation by the whole community. Its aim is to prioritize projects and programs for the decade ahead. The report was the culmination of two years of hard work involving five Science Frontier Panels to define the scientific themes, four Program Prioritization Panels that ranked research activities from space and from the ground, six Infrastructure Science Groups and, of course, the primary committee, the Committee for the Decadal Survey of Astronomy and Astrophysics of the National Research Council, which synthesized the final recommendations. In all there were 17 town hall meetings and more than 450 papers developed by the community on science, on projects and on infrastructure issues. If you get the picture that this was a massive enterprise, you’ve got it right!

Most relevant to us are two projects strongly supported by the DOE that lead the list of the decadal recommendations. The top priority for space-based instruments was the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, WFIRST, a descendant of the Joint DOE-NSF Dark Energy Mission, JDEM. It would employ three different techniques — weak gravitational lensing, supernovas as standard candles and baryon acoustic oscillations — to determine the effect of dark energy in the evolution of the universe. The new wrinkle in the recommendations is to add to the dark energy mission the search for exoplanets with the ultimate goal of advancing the search for earth-like planets.

At the top of the list for earth-based instruments is the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, LSST. This is a formidable wide-aperture 8.4m telescope to be sited in Chile, capable of imaging the entire sky every three nights. Over a 10-year lifetime it would generate 100 petabytes of data, available in a public archive. Up to this point we have collaborated on the JDEM proposal led by the Berkeley group, where our ambition has been to lead the science operations center. Our experience with large surveys like the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, SDSS, and the coming Dark Energy Survey, DES, places us in a strong position to contribute either to JDEM or to LSST. An important recommendation of the Decadal Survey for the DOE is that in the case of limited budgets (have we ever seen anything different?), LSST should be done first. We have an interesting time ahead of us as the agencies determine how to implement these recommendations.

-Pier Oddone, Director, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory