AAO Newsletter October 1996 - Page 2
For an observatory a change in Director inevitably heralds in a new era. As the new Director of the AAO, I feel that this era is not only ushered in by my own appointment, but also by the commissioning of 2dF and its implications for the Observatory. The encouraging news of the first redshift survey field observed by 2dF (reported by Keith Taylor in this newsletter) is an indication that the AAO is on track to deliver a facility which will allow us to compete effectively with the new generation of 8-10 m class telescopes. Although routine operation of 2dF is clearly still some way off, the signs are very positive indeed.
The 2dF is, of course, not the only innovative new instrumentation project which will carry the AAO into the 21st century. Later this year, the commissioning of SPIRAL phase A takes place, and early next year we hope to receive the large 2Kx4K CCD arrays from our contracts with EEV and MIT/Lincoln Labs. It is planned to use these devices not only to enhance our existing instrumentation, but also to incorporate them into new facilities such as the UCLES camera upgrade, and a new 4Kx4K wide-field imaging mosaic at prime focus. In addition, at its September meeting, the AAT Board identified IRIS-2 as the next major instrumentation project for the AAO. IRIS-II is a wide field infrared imager/spectrograph which will ideally complement the smaller field/higher angular resolution cameras on the larger 8m-class telescopes.
Building new instruments is, of course, only one aspect of the AAO's function. For the future, we must be careful to strike the appropriate balance between the development of new instrumentation and improved support for existing facilities. The last few years have seen the AAO fully stretched by the 2dF project, to the neglect of the development of other areas of our operation. Some of these areas, such as the provision of pipeline data-processing and an on-line archive, will become increasingly important over the next few years as more and more data becomes available to astronomers.
The development programmes outlined above clearly can only take place if the AAO continues to be funded adequately by both the Australian and UK governments. The AAO has always operated on a lean budget. However, we appear to live in a time where an increasing number of facilities are chasing a diminishing number of resources and there are pressures to restrict this lean budget even further. This was particularly apparent at the UK's Ground Based Facilities Committee meeting which I attended in early October. Although this committee will not decide on the development budget for the UK-supported telescopes until January of next year, it is clear that any diminution in the funds available to the AAO will have a serious impact not only on our ability to provide for the new instrumentation outlined above, but also on the long-term support for the 2dF facility.