ING VISITING GROUP
REPORT TO THE ISAAC NEWTON GROUP BOARD, APRIL 2001
The ING Director and his staff have been outstandingly successful in restructuring the management and operations of the ING. The ING has made a very satisfactory response to the recommendations in the Cannon report that are under its control.
The ING staff have a strong and clear vision for the future of the ING. They are planning for a WHT instrumentation future that concentrates on the high quality of the site and the wide field capabilities of the telescope. The VG concurs with this vision, and recommends that the ING establish a director's advisory committee which would (i) help spread the vision to the user communities and (ii) provide a stronger partnership between the ING and the broader communities.
2. SCIENTIFIC USE AND COMPETITIVENESS OF ING
By all scientific measures, the WHT is a well managed, highly productive and competitive telescope on an excellent site, and ranks among the top two 4-m class telescopes in the world. The INT is well ranked among the world's 2-m class telescopes, in terms of impact and productivity.
3. ASTRONOMICAL PROSPECTS FOR ING in 8-m ERA
In the 8-m era, telescopes in the 2- to 4-m class have excellent prospects for general user frontline science that is well matched to their medium aperture and large field. The ING should make the most of the opportunities provided by the excellent site, the wide field of the WHT, and the flexibility of its operations system. The VG strongly endorses the ING proposal to concentrate on adaptive optics, wide-field multi-object spectroscopy, and frontline specialised visitor instruments for the future (see section 4 of the main report). A prerequisite is that adequate funding is retained.
4. OPTIONS FOR DEVELOPMENT OF FACILITIES
The VG endorses the proposed rationalisation of instruments, with basically one instrument per focus and enough flexibility to implement queue observing.
(i) ISIS is a low maintenance and highly productive workhorse instrument that is much in demand and should be retained till the end of agreement.
(ii) A high resolution spectrograph is valued by both the UK and NL communities. We recommend that the ING negotiate with the TNG for the use of its SARG spectrograph, or continue the use of UES at the WHT as a very low maintenance fiber-fed facility.
(iii) AUTOFIB/WYFFOS with the current upgrades will be competitive for at least the next 4 years. The input of the ING project staff is critical to the success of this overall project.
(iv) the VG is enthusiastic about the role of AO in the future of the WHT, but urges a clear and fast path to a science-driven facility. Specifically, the main staple in the short term should be visible IFU spectroscopy with TEIFU/OASIS. Near-IR AO imaging with INGRID/NAOMI is a welcome addition. The VG sees this AO development as exciting but not without risk. Consequently, we recommend an expert review of AO at the WHT to be conducted right after the NAOMI commissioning runs in 2001A. We propose that Dr Guy Monnet should identify an appropriate group of experts and chair this review.
(v) A modest wide field imaging capability should be retained at the INT. Alternatively, it may be preferable for the ING to negotiate with the CFHT for use of its forthcoming 1 square degree facility, with reciprocal access to AUTOFIB.
(vi) Queue observing in service mode will be essential in the AO era, because of unpredictable sky conditions. Some innovative approaches to personnel resources will be needed to cope with the costs of queue observing.
(vii) The ING appears well-prepared for remote observing from the sea-level facility. This should be a goal for the future, and makes sense in the context of a coordinated La Palma Observatory at sea-level.
(viii) The relationship between scientific impact and the grades of proposals in the time allocation process should be seriously evaluated. The time allocation process will need to adapt, to handle large projects and queue scheduling in a tight budget situation.
5. ASSESSING THE OPTIONS
The VG believes that the challenges of continued internal project work are essential for the future success of the ING. The ratio of operations to development activities should be maintained at the present level, even with a diminished budget.
The IAC is building a new sea-level facility to be shared with other users of the ORM. We believe that the ING sharing in this new facility offers many opportunities for scientific and technical synergy and financial saving.
The WHT is a great asset, and its loss would be a real setback for the astronomical communities, especially in terms of access to the Northern sky. The VG favors the Director's model A (see Annex 3), with continued development and enhancement of the WHT given top priority over keeping the smaller telescopes open. It sees this model as a framework for continuing the highly successful operation of the WHT with reduced funding. The ING and ING Board should have the flexibility to sell time on the smaller telescopes if demand for them from the UK and NL communities ramps down in the future.
The Director's strongly reduced model B is seen as incompatible with Adaptive Optics implementation and serious in-house developments. The VG believes that it would lead to de-motivation of the staff, followed by growing non-competitiveness, and would very likely lead to the closure of the facility by mid-decade.
6. THE LONG-TERM FUTURE
The ING should actively foster cooperation between the ING and IAC, and the other users of the ORM. The long-term goal, by the end of the agreement, should be a negotiated and collaborative integration of the ING within an umbrella that includes the IAC and many other users of the ORM, based in a common sea-level facility. The VG urges the ING and its parent agencies PPARC and NWO to take a prompt and proactive role in bringing about this integration.
The primary scientific goal here would be access to the GTC for the UK and NL communities, in exchange for instrumental input and access to the smaller telescopes. Operational savings would also be likely.