Update on the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope

Dr. Doug Simons, the Executive Director of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT), visited NAOC and gave a lecture on August 15, 2014. His lecture was divided into two parts. In the first part of the lecture, Dr. Simons highlighted ongoing and new projects administered by the CFHT, as well as upgraded facilities that support the telescope, including 12 new air vents that were recently cut into the observatory dome. The ongoing projects included the Outer Solar System Origins Survey, which discovered the first Trojan-type asteroid associated with Uranus. In addition, he said that a free floating planet had been identified because of the CFHT's highly-accurate ability to make astrometric measurements. He also described studies of clouds on Venus and showcased a project called GRACES that works in combination with one of the Gemini observatories which is also located on Mauna Kea. Dr. Simons explained that he supports collaborative efforts between facilities located on Mauna Kea, and he believes this will become more common in coming years. In addition, he showed designs of two instruments that are being constructed, SITELLE and SPIRou. SITELLE will be an imaging Fourier transform spectrometer that can observe emission lines from objects at very high resolution, and SPIRou will be a high-speed camera that can detect motions in M-class stars as low as 1 meter per second, due to exoplanets. He explained that these instruments can be used in conjunction with TESS and the James Webb Space Telescope as part of exoplanet surveys.

The second part of Dr. Simons' lecture discussed long-term plans for the facility that houses the CFHT. He said that, with a new generation of 30-40 meter telescopes being built around the world, and in particular, the TMT that will also be located at Mauna Kea, 1-4 meter telescopes will likely be retired in the 2020s, since operating expenses will be high compared to observational capabilities. He explained that the CFHT is exploring ways to remain active and useful to the astronomical community, and that there is an effort to upgrade the facility to a 10-meter class segmented mirror that can be utilized for fiber spectroscopy. He believes that the current dome and mounting structure can be used to house this upgrade, and that many of the components can be recycled, saving costs in future construction and streamlining administrative issues. The future facility to replace the CFHT will be called the Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer, and a committee of specialists has already been formed to guide its design. Dr. Simons was optimistic that the facility can be upgraded and remain useful for decades to come.


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