[ASA] FW: Optical Astronomy in Australia - Communication #3

Stuart Wyithe swyithe at unimelb.edu.au
Wed Aug 2 21:24:55 AEST 2017

Optical Astronomy in Australia - Communication #3

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Optical Astronomy in Australia - Communication #3


As many of you will know first-hand, July was a huge month for Australian astronomy: the 2017 Astronomical Society of Australia (ASA) Annual Scientific Meeting at the ANU; the official launch of ASTRO‑3D at Questacon on 12 July; the discovery by a USQ student, with the support of the AAO, of evidence of a new planet orbiting a binary star; and the signing of the Australia‑ESO Strategic Partnership on 11 July.
On this basis, it is timely to update you on the government’s ongoing partnership with the astronomy community and the activity around optical astronomy in Australia, particularly as it relates to the future of the AAO.


The Australia-ESO Strategic Partnership

The signing ceremony for the Australia-ESO Strategic Partnership
The event on Tuesday 11 July was fantastic and, as all speakers acknowledged, the culmination of decades of work and advocacy from the astronomy community (both national and international) and within government. There was a lot of media attention and much warranted fanfare. The event even made the (Canberra) evening news.
Minister Sinodinos gave a strong speech about the importance of astronomy, partnership and collaboration<http://industry.us11.list-manage1.com/track/click?u=8ed6f6a545e71ff832ce3e1af&id=9ce5982719&e=75415243a7> and about the power of science<http://industry.us11.list-manage.com/track/click?u=8ed6f6a545e71ff832ce3e1af&id=e8efb948e2&e=75415243a7> – themes that continued in his doorstop<http://industry.us11.list-manage.com/track/click?u=8ed6f6a545e71ff832ce3e1af&id=193c63b25e&e=75415243a7> and in his media release<http://industry.us11.list-manage.com/track/click?u=8ed6f6a545e71ff832ce3e1af&id=671780130b&e=75415243a7>. Brian Schmidt<http://industry.us11.list-manage2.com/track/click?u=8ed6f6a545e71ff832ce3e1af&id=50b857c788&e=75415243a7> and Virginia Kilborn<http://industry.us11.list-manage.com/track/click?u=8ed6f6a545e71ff832ce3e1af&id=ee914669fb&e=75415243a7> guided the proceedings and did a marvellous job of enthusing the audience and acknowledging the work that had gone into cementing the partnership. Tim de Zeeuw, the Director‑General of ESO, spoke about the world-class excellence of Australian astronomy research and instrumentation<http://industry.us11.list-manage.com/track/click?u=8ed6f6a545e71ff832ce3e1af&id=f6625782c0&e=75415243a7> finally being part of ESO and how important the partnership was for the future of optical astronomy, both in Australia and overseas.
I would encourage you to revisit the short video extracts from the speeches, hyperlinked above. It was a momentous occasion that has opened up so many opportunities for the Australian research and instrumentation community.


Applying for time at the La Silla Paranal Observatories
Tim de Zeeuw provided the ASA participants with an overview of the La Silla Paranal Observatories, the world-class instruments and telescopes that are there and some elementary information about how to apply for observing time. Australians are now eligible to compete for time alongside astronomers based in ESO member states for the first time.
To make it easier for scientists to do so, Dr Stuart Ryder from the International Telescopes Support Office at the AAO is working directly with ESO to confirm a number of dates in September where ESO specialists will come out to Australia and provide advice on the process of applying. The ESO Roadshow is for Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane for 18‑22 September. Stuart will have more information and you should contact him if you have specific questions. The Head of Science at ESO will be leading the talks<http://industry.us11.list-manage.com/track/click?u=8ed6f6a545e71ff832ce3e1af&id=4db9f2e5e0&e=75415243a7>.
In the meantime, as many of you would be aware, ESO has a Twitter account for Australia<http://industry.us11.list-manage.com/track/click?u=8ed6f6a545e71ff832ce3e1af&id=3474a97146&e=75415243a7>, with over 3000 fascinating posts of interest to both the Australian astronomy community and the wider Australian public. Of particular interest in this context is ESOcast 116 ‘Success or Failure: How to get Observing Time’, a short (5 minute) video introduction<http://industry.us11.list-manage.com/track/click?u=8ed6f6a545e71ff832ce3e1af&id=eda1fcc0b5&e=75415243a7> to the peer-review process by which ESO allocates time on its telescopes, with over ~900 proposals received each year, involving over 3,500 astronomers from 50 countries each semester.

Applying for ESO instrumentation contracts and industry tenders
The head of the Science and Commercialisation Policy Division in the Department, Jane Urquhart (@UrquhartJane), has just returned from ESO HQ in Garching, Germany. There, she met a number of key ESO figures responsible for fostering the industry and instrumentation links in their member states and, now, in Australia. We have started talking to Astronomy Australia Limited (AAL) and AusIndustry colleagues about the way forward to build an industry presence and awareness around our domestic optical astronomy activities and ESO tendering opportunities, so watch this space.

Don’t forget that Australians are now eligible to apply for ESO jobs (provided, of course, you meet all the other criteria!) <http://industry.us11.list-manage.com/track/click?u=8ed6f6a545e71ff832ce3e1af&id=18bc397a42&e=75415243a7>

Domestic arrangements
I had an opportunity on the first day of the ASA annual meeting to give a presentation on the government’s measure for strengthening optical astronomy in Australia. My presentation (slides attached) was part of a larger panel discussion on the future of our domestic optical astronomy capability, convened by Professor Rachel Webster, Chair of AAL. The panel members were Professor Lisa Kewley (ANU / NCA), Professor Matthew Colless (ANU), Professor Warrick Couch (AAO), and Mark McAuley (AAL).
It was clear from both the panel discussion and the audience questions that followed that the capability and excellence within the AAO are critical to Australia’s ongoing capability and international engagement in optical astronomy. The Australian-ESO Strategic Partnership can only deliver the full scientific return on Australia’s public investment if our domestic engagement and instrumentation excellence enable this. To this end, the government is working with key astronomy stakeholders to develop a plan to maintain our domestic capability and to strengthen it, especially in its connection to industry, into the future.

AAO Operations
The AAO will continue to operate as a division of the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science until 30 June 2018. This means that operations, astronomer support, research, outreach, and instrumentation—all the everyday functions of the AAO—will continue for another year. The AAO Advisory Committee, chaired by Professor Peter Quinn, continues to have an active role in advising the Department throughout the transition.
From 1 July 2018, the AAO will no longer be a single organisation operating within government. Its world-class capability and expertise will be transferred to two new consortia led by the research sector:

  1.  A consortium of Australian universities, led by the ANU, will take on the operations of the AAT; and
  2.  Another consortium, to be determined, will take on AAO’s instrumentation functions, with a view to establishing a long-term national optical instrumentation capability.


AAT consortium, led by the Australian National University
From 1 July 2018, an ANU-led consortium will operate the AAT as part of the ANU’s existing astronomy infrastructure at Siding Spring Observatory. The ANU is working closely with AAL and individual universities to develop the composition and framework of the consortium going forward. We expect the majority of AAT-specific AAO staff at Coonabarabran to transfer to the new organisation. This new arrangement will ensure that the AAT continues to operate for at least another 7 years. The AAT’s ability to support the scientific observations required by the ARC Centre of Excellence for All‑sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO‑3D) and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav) over the coming seven years is critical to growing Australia’s astronomical research capability into the future. We are working closely with ANU, AAO and AAL to secure the advisory services of the outgoing Director of Gemini, Markus Kissler-Patig, to provide the ANU and its consortium partners with effective operating models to consider for the AAT under its new operational management.

University/industry consortium for the instrumentation capability
As noted above, the objective of this component is to retain and further develop the world-class astronomical instrumentation functions of the AAO in the research sector, outside of the Department. While the details are still being developed, we expect this national capability to start as a hub based in Sydney and that it will support industry collaboration and commercialisation. We expect the majority of staff associated with these functions to transition to the new hub, and we expect that these functions will be linked to existing instrumentation capabilities and expertise at ANU and elsewhere, to create a national capability. The consortium that forms around the Sydney hub will be positioned to capitalise fully on Australia’s involvement with ESO and GMT over the next decade.
Because of these expectations, the importance of the capability in maintaining our international standing, the knowledge and excellence within the AAO, and the opportunities available to broaden the capability into industry sectors, there is a lot of interest and a lot of pressure to get it right, with many questions from the sector and interested stakeholders.

Reference Group for Optical Astronomy
As the next step, we are setting up an Optical Astronomy Reference Group, comprised of experienced, senior representatives from across the astronomy community, to be chaired by Prof Peter Quinn, current Chair of the AAO Advisory Committee. The group will meet monthly, from August, to discuss critical aspects of the transition and the framework around which the new Sydney hub will operate. One of the group’s first tasks is to help us finalise a set of principles and boundary conditions to guide the transition to, and establishment of, the new Sydney‑based national optical instrumentation capability.
We anticipate that an expression of interest to invite consortium proposals will follow in the next couple of months and that once a host institution or institutions is identified, detailed transition planning can get properly underway. Of course, we will continue to work in partnership with the astronomy community on the way forward.

I will provide you with regular updates over the coming months as to how we are progressing.

Clare McLaughlin
General Manager
Science Agencies Governance Branch
Science and Commercialisation Policy Division
Department of Industry, Innovation and Science
www.industry.gov.au<http://industry.us11.list-manage.com/track/click?u=8ed6f6a545e71ff832ce3e1af&id=1c19345216&e=75415243a7> | www.science.gov.au<http://industry.us11.list-manage.com/track/click?u=8ed6f6a545e71ff832ce3e1af&id=712902bfae&e=75415243a7>



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