An Introduction to NOAO
On April 27, 2016, Director of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) Dr. David Silva visited NAOC and gave a presentation about facilities and projects that NOAO administers and future directions NOAO will pursue. Dr. Silva has been a staff astronomer at NOAO and ESO, and he has experience managing WIYN, Gemini, the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT), ALMA, the Thirty Meter Telescope and many others. Dr. Silva started his talk by outlining the mission of NOAO to provide world-class facilities and data sets for the astronomical community. He continued by saying that NOAO users engage in research on a broad range of topics at the frontier of astronomy.
Dr. Silva next identified the geographic locations of facilities managed by NOAO, which include two sites. One site is in the northern hemisphere in Arizona and the other one is in the southern hemisphere in Chile. He continued by showing photos of observatories at both these locations and discussed some aspects of research that is being conducted. He emphasized that although some of the telescopes that NOAO administers are over 40 years old, by installing new instrumentation like the Dark Energy Camera, these facilities can continue to be used for cutting-edge research activities, including deep studies of galaxy clusters that have not been observed by previous surveys, cosmic shear arising from weak lensing of background galaxies by dark matter and tracing tidal debris associated with the Milky Way. In addition, he said that NOAO equipment will be utilized to search for very faint objects in the Oort Clout and Near-Earth Objects.
He ended his talk by describing strategic initiatives beyond the year 2020, like projects to measure Doppler shifts of stars caused by Earth-like planets which require extreme precision, and a spectroscopic survey of faint galaxies to a redshift of approximately 4. In addition, he outlined efforts that NOAO is spearheading to develop large databases that house data from future astronomical surveys and investigations of time-domain astronomy. He said that it is important for young astronomers to plan for the future, since such large projects can take decades to develop and build.