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The Role of the W. M. Keck Observatory in U.S. Astronomy

Submitted by Taft Armandroff

Director, W. M. Keck Observatory (tarmandroff@keck.hawaii.edu) on behalf of the Keck Observatory and its scientific community1

For Astro2010 Study Groups: FFP and IPP

Executive summary

W. M. Keck Observatory is an essential element of the U.S. optical / infrared observing system.  A significant fraction of U.S. peer-reviewed public access to large telescopes is achieved through Keck Observatory, specifically via NASA’s partnership in Keck and through the NSF/NOAO TSIP program.  Objective scientific productivity metrics reveal Keck Observatory to be a key source of U.S. leadership in astronomy.  Keck Observatory is a successful public-private partnership in which limited federal funding is highly leveraged by state and private funding. We discuss policy enhancements that would help Keck Observatory realize its full potential in serving the U.S. astronomy community and functioning as an essential element of the U.S. ground-based optical/infrared system.  Enhancements are recommended to the NSF/NOAO TSIP program and to NSF’s ATI and MRI programs that we believe would benefit all non-federal observatories and the broad community that they serve.  Open, peer-reviewed competition is advocated for all federal instrumentation investments.

1 Overview of W. M. Keck Observatory

The W. M. Keck Observatory (WMKO) operates twin 10-meter optical/infrared telescopes on the excellent site of Mauna Kea.  The two telescopes feature a highly capable suite of advanced instrumentation for both optical and near-infrared wavelengths, including imagers, multi-object spectrographs, high-resolution spectrographs, and integral-field spectroscopy.  WMKO has developed and operates a sophisticated natural and laser guide star adaptive optics system and related instrumentation. The Observatory also operates the only large-aperture infrared interferometer in the U.S.

2 Keck Observatory Scientific Productivity

Although there are now a significant number of 6-10 meter optical/infrared ground-based telescopes, by almost all measures, Keck Observatory has maintained the lead in research

1 Presented and discussed at meetings of the Keck Science Steering Committee with membership J. Brodie (UC Santa Cruz, Co-Chair), C. Martin (Caltech, Co-Chair), R. Akeson (NExScI), J. Cohen (Caltech), R. Ellis (Caltech), A. Filippenko (UC Berkeley), T. Greene (NASA), M. Liu (U. Hawaii), X. Prochaska (UC Santa Cruz), M. Bolte (UC Observatories, ex-officio), S. Kulkarni (Caltech, ex-officio), K. Glazebrook (Swinburne, observer), and P. van Dokkum (Yale, observer).

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