Astronomy is changing. Large projects, large collaborations, and large budgets are becoming the norm. The
Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) is one example of this new astronomy, and in operating the original survey, we
put in place and learned many valuable operating principles. Scientists sometimes have the tendency to invent
everything themselves but when budgets are large, deadlines are many, and both are tight, learning from others
and applying it appropriately can make the difference between success and failure. We offer here our experiences
well as our thoughts, opinions, and beliefs on what we learned in operating the SDSS.
Over a decade of site testing in Antarctica has shown that both South Pole and Dome C are exceptional sites for
astronomy, with certain atmospheric conditions superior to those at existing mid-latitude sites. However, the highest
point on the Antarctic plateau, Dome A, is expected to experience colder atmospheric temperatures, lower wind speeds,
and a turbulent boundary layer that is confined closer to the ground. The Polar Research Institute of China, who were the
first to visit the Dome A site in January 2005, plan to establish a permanently manned station there within the next
decade. As part of this process they conducted a second expedition to Dome A, arriving via overland traverse in January
2008. This traverse involved the delivery and installation of the PLATeau Observatory (PLATO). PLATO is an
automated self-powered astrophysical site testing observatory, developed by the University of New South Wales. A
number of international institutions have contributed site testing instruments measuring turbulence, optical sky
background, and sub-millimetre transparency. In addition, a set of science instruments are providing wide-field high time
resolution optical photometry and terahertz imaging of the Galaxy. We present here an overview of the PLATO system
design and instrumentation suite.
Recent data have shown that Dome C, on the Antarctic plateau, is an exceptional site for astronomy, with atmospheric
conditions superior to those at any existing mid-latitude site. Dome C, however, may not be the best site on the
Antarctic plateau for every kind of astronomy. The highest point of the plateau is Dome A, some 800 m higher than
Dome C. It should experience colder atmospheric temperatures, lower wind speeds, and a turbulent boundary layer that
is confined closer to the ground. The Dome A site was first visited in January 2005 via an overland traverse, conducted
by the Polar Research Institute of China. The PRIC plans to return to the site to establish a permanently manned station
within the next decade. The University of New South Wales, in collaboration with a number of international institutions,
is currently developing a remote automated site testing observatory for deployment to Dome A in the 2007/8 austral
summer as part of the International Polar Year. This self-powered observatory will be equipped with a suite of site
testing instruments measuring turbulence, optical and infrared sky background, and sub-millimetre transparency. We
present here a discussion of the objectives of the site testing campaign and the planned configuration of the observatory.
We describe a large-angle survey for fast, optical transients: gamma ray bursts (GRBs), supernovae (SNe), lensed and transiting planets, AGNs and serendipitously found objects. The principal science goals are to obtain light curves for all transients and to obtain redshifts of GRBs and orphan afterglows. The array is called Xian. In conjunction with the gamma-ray satellites, ECLAIRs/SVOM and GLAST, the data will be used to study sources from z=0.1 to >6. The telescope array has 400 Schmidt telescopes, each with ~20 sq. degree focal planes and apertures of ~0.5 meters. The passively cooled, multiple CCD arrays have a total of 16000x16000 pixels, up to 13 readout channels per 1K x 4K CCD and work in TDI mode. The system provides continuous coverage of the circumpolar sky, from the Antarctic plateau, every few seconds. Images averaged over longer time intervals allow searches for the host galaxies of the detected transients, as well as for fainter, longer timescale transients. Complete, data at high time resolution are only stored for selected objects. The telescopes are fixed and use a single filter: there are few (or no) moving parts. Expected detection rates are 0.3 GRBs afterglows per day, >100 orphan afterglows per day and >0.1 blue flashes per day from Type II or Type Ib/c supernovae. On-site computers compare successive images and trigger follow-up observations of selected objects with a co-sited, well-instrumented telescope (optical, IR; spectroscopy, photometry, polarimetry), for rapid follow-up of transients. Precursor arrays with 20-100 square degrees are planned for the purpose of developing trigger software, testing observing strategies and deriving good cost estimates for a full set of telescope units.
We describe an "Origins Survey" that will provide a comprehensive picture of the era of galaxy formation and assembly. The survey data will allow us to develop and test models of when and how the first condensed objects in the universe are formed. We propose to do this by accumulating enough redshifts to have 10,000 galaxies of each of 20 types (defined empirically by the real state of galaxies) in each of 10 time zones of duration 1.5 Gyr each. Discounting the first two such zones which will be covered by the SDSS, the 2DF, and other surveys, our plan is to obtain redshifts for a total of 2 million galaxies. The hardware design is driven by the requirement to see the earliest galaxies (z ~ 10) and the capability to carry out this high z survey in an elapsed time of five years on a dedicated telescope. These considerations lead to a tentative design that uses a 20 - 40 meter diameter telescope with an Integral Field Unit (IFU) high-resolution spectrograph (R=6000 operating in the 1 - 2.5 micron spectral range. We require a 1 - 3 arc minute field of view with a modest adaptive-optics-corrected 0.2 arc-sec half power diameter point spread function (in the near-IR). Simultaneous, complementary observations will be made in the far-infrared/submm (350 - 850) microns to view the "hidden" starbursts known to exist from SCUBA data and the (non-CMB) infrared background. These observations require a low water vapor site. With appropriate instrumentation the same telescope can be used to study proto-planetary disks and star formation regions in the low z Universe. In this paper we present the scientific case for the survey, the basis for our requirements, and the results of our preliminary studies of how best to meet these goals.
A new echelle spectrograph was commissioned in 1999 for the ARC 3.5 meter telescope. The key features of the instrument are that it has a resolution of 9 km/sec, limited by the pixel size of the CCD; has no moving parts behind the slit during observation; provides complete spectral coverage from 3200A to 10000A, limited by the prism cross disperser material on the blue side and by the CCD sensitivity on the red side; provides blazeless spectra; achieves S/N>3000; and is remotely operable. The instrument is being used for studies of abundances in stars and for a large survey of diffuse interstellar bands.