NOAO Small Telescopes Workshop

January 12-January 15, 1997

Toronto, Canada

NOAO Small Telescope Workshop Discussion Group Summaries


Discussion group A: The use of small telescopes for educational purposes, including to provide research opportunities for faculty at primarily undergraduate institutions, in small astronomy programs, or in non- astronomy environments.

Co-chairs: Debra Elmegreen, Steve Strom
NOAO/AURA: M. A'Hearn, G. Jacoby

  1. The Education breakout group recommends commissioning a National Academy level study to identify
    • the mix of ground-based O/IR capabilities (telescopes+instruments)
    • the management and scheduling structures
    • the funding strategies
    required to ensure that the US community continues to have access to the full range of facilities required to enable world competitive research, and that all segments of the community can compete openly for access to such facilities. This study should delineate not only the facilities needed to support research directly, but the facilities and support required to train the next generation of research scientists.
  2. We recommend rapid assembly of a database (following the NASTeC example) which will enable the community to understand more precisely the contributions of smaller facilities throughout the US to research and science education, broadly conceived. The database should incorporate:
    • a summary of small telescopes used primarily for science education
    • a catalog of instrumentation available
    • a listing of opportunities for outside collaboration
    • a summary of research usage by faculty, students, and researchers
    • a description of teaching usage at the undergraduate and graduate level
    • a summary of support for technicians, students, and curricular development.
    This study will provide for the first time a clear understanding of the capital and institutional investments in such facilities, and the basis for developing a national strategy for ensuring that these telescopes can be used with maximum effectiveness in meeting both community and institutional education and research goals. We note that Heather Preston has already assembled some of these data for NASTeC.
  3. We need to carefully examine the mix of science enabled (a) by national facilities at present, and (b) with the baseline for facilities/capabilities planned for FY2000 by NOAO with the goal of identifying (1) the capabilities lost via proposed telescope shutdowns; and (2) the areas of scientific research which no longer will be possible. Careful, science-based delineation of capabilities/science opportunities lost is critical to developing wise policy choices.

    Our group was particularly concerned that a loss in the total number of available nights scheduled -- an inevitable consequence of NOAO's current baseline plan -- will lead

    • to excluding certain kinds of science even assuming the same O/IR, wide-field, objective prism CAPABILITIES as we have at present.
    • clear educational loss (fewer students can go to KPNO).
  4. We recommend evaluating the merits of local/regional consortia for meeting critical community and institutional educational and research goals.

    Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium, SARA, NURO can serve as models for possible arrangements, whose benefits include:

    • collaborations among faculty
    • long-term observing projects requiring dedicated telescopes
    • exchange of students
    • student symposia and faculty get-togethers
    • sharing of technical expertise and assistance
    • collectively purchasing small amounts of telescope time on privately owned telescopes such as the Burrell-Schmidt
    We encourage developing innovative approaches for funding for such consortia, perhaps building on and emphasizing the important role such consortia play in undergraduate science education and the training of graduate students.
  5. We believe that campus facilities are one of the most effective tools for science education at all levels and for publich outreach. In most cases, it is impossible to take full advantage of these facilities, owing to (a) limited faculty time; (b) limited or no technical support; and (c) the lack of modern instrumentation. Tremendous educational benefit -- at all levels -- would accrue were institutional/federal partnerships developed with the goal of more fully and creatively using these facilities. We therefore recommend a study aimed at outlining the role of campus facilities in science education and the potential added value of new funding opportunities which would enable support of:
    • technicians
    • instrument upgrade
    • computer upgrade
    • educational efforts by post-docs, grad students, undergrads
    The breakout group noted in particular the great demand on the small number of faculty at small institutions or in small departments -- and the limited time available for developing classes, laboratories, outreach activities, etc. which would take full advantage of campus telescopes. Often the astronomer(s) must do all computer maintenance and telescope instrumentation, and rely on student assistance. Upgrading computers and instruments can be difficult, both technically and monetarily.
  6. In view of the rapid changes both in available mix of observing facilities and in funding opportunities, we recommend that the astronomical commununity -- in partnership with its major funding agencies -- encourage a "culture of experiment". In particular, we urge that NSF and NASA work with the community to encourage new approaches which will enable astronomers located at the full range of US institutions to carry out successful programs of research, science education and public outreach.


Discussion group B: The use of small telescopes for support of observations at other wavelengths and/or from space.

Co-chairs: Yoji Kondo, Ed Guinan
NOAO/AURA: Ken Mighell, Doug Richstone


  1. In the past small telescopes have played a vital role in supporting multi-wavelength observations from space (gamma, x-ray, euv, uv, optical, ir) and those from ground-based radio observations conducted with the VLA and VLBI. Examples of this include multi-wavelength studies of Comets, Planets and Moons, Supernovae, CVs, AGN, Eclipsing Binaries, RS CVn stars and many other classes of variable objects.
  2. Because of the rich scientific rewards of these programs and the presence of many orbiting telescopes such as HST, ROSAT, ASCA, ISO, EUVE, GRO, XTE, SAX, and others and the upcoming deployment of FUSE, AXAF, SIRTF, INTEGRAL, and (further in the future) the NGST, the need for and the importance of small telescopes will increase rather than diminish in the future.
  3. We expect small telescopes to be playing a supporting role and in some cases even a leading role in the science done with large ground-based optical and radio telescopes such as the KECKs, Gemini, WIYN, KPNO/CTIO 4Ms, WIYN and others either already operating or now being planned. It is very difficult to get large blocks of observing time on large telescopes and this makes monitoring of important astronomical sources almost impossible.
  4. In the future it might be useful to have someone designated/appointed as a liaison or coordinator of coordinated programs. The North American Small Telescope Cooperative (NASTeC) could serve as the clearing house for coordinated NASA programs and small telescopes.
  5. For the near future it is important to retain an all purpose (meaning photometric/spectroscopic and visible to near IR) 1-2M telescope at NOAO. In the future a robotic telescope could be used.
  6. It would be worthwhile to have a small (1m class) multi-purpose telescope in space as soon as feasible. This facility should include FUV to IR wavelengths and have low to medium resolution spectrophotometric capabilities. Its orbit should be geosynchronous, far earth orbit with high e, or located at the lunar-Earth Lagrangian L4 or L5 points. This type of facility could be proposed as part of the SMEX or MIDEX program.


Discussion group C: The use of small telescopes for large projects - surveys, long-term monitoring, and longitude- coverage networks.

Co-chairs: B. Paczynski, M. Urry
NOAO/AURA: D. Crawford, M. Smith

  1. New science made possible by new spans of time - coverage requires
    • networks (24-hour coverage)
    • dedicated telescopes (long-term monitoring)
  2. Different projects have diverse requirements for
    • Field of view
    • sampling and duration
    • sensitivity
    • area / #sources
    • #telescopes
    • #pixels, read-out rate, etc.
    • archive capability
  3. New science is possible with telescopes in the size range
    • 0.5m-1m - for imaging
    • 2m (4m) - for spectroscopy
  4. Some examples of the diverse science possible
    • AGN monitoring
      • photometry of blazars (jets)
      • spectroscopy of Seyferts (BLR)
    • cataclysmic variable monitoring
    • microlensing (107 obj/night)
    • variable stars in M31/M33
    • Stellar populations, Gal Structure studies
    • detection and followup of optical afterglow from cosmic gamma ray sources
  5. Common themes - all programs require or prefer
    • inexpensive CCD/IR arrays etc.
    • inexpensive & standardized cameras
    • remote/robotic operations
    • large databases, internet access
    • telescope clones (<2m)


Discussion group D: Innovative approaches to the instrumentation and operation of small telescopes - private or at NOAO - for use by a wide community of observers.

Co-chairs: R. Green, R. Gehrz
NOAO/AURA: G. Oertel, B. Bohannan

Discussion group D summarized the characteristics of an economical and efficient operation of multiple telescopes, giving as an example the several telescopes operated by the Universities of Minnesota and Wyoming in Minnesota, Wyoming, and Arizona:

  • 3 fully automated IR telescopes
  • IBM PC commputer controlled
  • Common control hardware and software
  • Semi-robotic remote operations by pc from anywhere on Earth
  • Off-the-shelf hardware
  • full-capability laboratory simulator to test hardware and software; training observers
  • dedicated instrumentation
  • low-cost operation with minimal support personnel required

Further conclusions reached by this group:

  • Technology improvements (upgrades) involving modest initial investments can lead to substantial long term gains in reduced operating expense.
  • Low maintenance, high reliability solutions that reduce the operating personnel required are currently technically feasible for older telescopes like the smaller ones at Kitt Peak.
  • Collaborations may be beneficial, in part as they can lead to economies of scale.
  • Long-term programs using high-reliability dedicated instrumentation are a desirable outcome of reinstrumenting small telescopes.