AAO Newsletter July 1996 - Page 2


Director's Message

After ten years in the job, it is tempting to use this space for the last time to reminisce about the many projects that have been carried out at the AAO, the new instruments which have been commissioned and the people who have done the work; since I arrived in September 1986. However, this is a research institute and what matters most is not the past but the future. Most innovative research is done by people who are undaunted by past problems and failures, albeit often simply through blissful ignorance. So let me sign off by concentrating on the new opportunities open to the AAO.

2dF is now well down the commissioning track, as reported elsewhere in this issue by Keith Taylor and Ray Sharples. It will be some time yet before it is performing to specification in every respect but the successes of the last few months have given us confidence that there are no really fundamental problems remaining to be overcome. It is also clear that our decision to build 2dF, taken back in 1989/90, was the right one, even though it has cost us more in cash, effort and sleepless nights than we originally bargained for. The AAO has a new facility which is unmatched by any other, one which means that the AAT will be doing front-line research for the next decade or longer. User demand for 2dF, as measured by applications already received by ATAC and PATT, is very high and covers a wide range of astronomical targets in addition to the obvious large survey tasks for which the facility was designed.

Getting 2dF fully up to specification, and keeping it operating at that level thereafter, will place a continuing demand on AAO resources which must be allowed for in future operations and instrumentation plans. But its near-completion is already enabling some other long-awaited projects to move ahead. The AAO's instrumentation panel, ACIAAT, has just met but is still completing its annual report to the AAT Board, so details of other projects and their relative priorities are not yet certain. However, it is clear that building a successor to IRIS, using the much larger infrared arrays now available, is likely to be the top priority new project, simply because the scientific gains are so great (also given the evident deterioration of the old array in IRIS, documented here by Stuart Lumsden). Other very highly ranked projects include a new camera for UCLES, which will cover the full optical spectrum at high resolution in a single exposure, and a CCD imaging array for the Prime Focus. The Schmidt Telescope is about to embark on a new H-alpha survey of the Milky Way (see the announcement by Quentin Parker in this issue) and also has plans to upgrade the FLAIR fibre spectroscopy system.

None of these new instruments will be cheap and the AAO budget is limited. Although approximately level overall funding has been secured in recent years, there is continuing external pressure to cut the budget and more pressure from within, due to unfunded increases in staff salaries and other overheads which are subject to inflation. The future instrumentation budget line is inevitably the one which is liable to be cut to meet such pressures, although we always endeavour to maintain the proportion of the budget allocated to new projects. Our hope is that the very strong list of future instrumentation for the AAO will enable US to win additional funds wherever possible, and we encourage our colleagues in the universities who have a strong interest in particular projects to consider making direct bids to the funding agencies in the two countries. For some projects this is already happening.

We also believe that both the funding agencies, through the AAT Board, should consider increasing, rather than capping or decreasing, their annual contributions to the AAO. At present we are faced with a budget which is declining in real terms, together with some other worries. On the UK side, Forward Look plans show the AAT getting a significantly smaller instrumentation budget

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