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TMT Scientific Advisory Committee meeting at the Project Office on January 29, 2020. SAC representatives from the TMT partners are the primary interface between the scientific community and the telescope and instrumentation projects. From left to right: Eric Chisholm (TMT), Greg Herczeg (Peking Univ.), Chuck Steidel (Caltech), Masayuki Akiyama (Tohoku Univ.), Christophe Dumas (TMT), Claire Max (UC Santa Cruz), Judith Cohen (Caltech), Lori Lubin (UC Davis), Tommaso Treu (UCLA), Chris Martin (Caltech), Tomonori Usuda (NAOJ / TMT-J), Warren Skidmore (TMT), Mark Dickinson (NSF’s OIR- Lab), Angel Otarola (TMT), Fengchuan Liu (TMT), Taotao Fang (Xiamen Univ.) - Image credit: TMT International Observatory

TMT Scientific Advisory Committee Holds First Meeting of the New Decade in Pasadena

Pasadena, CA – TMT Science Advisory Committee (SAC) members and project office staff recently met at the Project Office in Pasadena. TMT Project Manager Gary Sanders opened the meeting with a project update, including a description of the current situation on Maunakea, the ongoing discussions toward a peaceful solution for the construction of TMT in Hawaii, and the technical progresses made on TMT’s design.

During the two-day meeting, SAC representatives from all TMT partners and scientists from the project office discussed TMT’s planned instrumentation suite, with a special focus on the most recent developments on TMT’s first-light instruments. 

The Multi-Object Diffraction-limited High-Resolution Infrared Spectrograph (MODHIS) is one of the three TMT first-light instruments. Dimitri Mawet, Principal Investigator and Director of Caltech’s Exoplanet Technology laboratory, introduced MODHIS’ current design characteristics based on a diffraction-limited, compact, stable, cost-effective architecture. MODHIS’ main science case is exoplanet studies via Precision Radial Velocity and Transit and direct spectroscopy. MODHIS is expected to be extremely powerful in characterizing exoplanet atmospheric composition and searching for the presence of biomarkers. But its [0.95 – 2.4 µm] high-spectral resolution echelle spectrograph will also enable a large breadth of scientific capabilities from solar system astronomy to galactic and extra-galactic science​, which will make MODHIS a very unique instrument.

The InfraRed Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) status update was given by Eric Chisholm, TMT Science Instruments Group Leader, on behalf of the large international IRIS team. IRIS is TMT’s most mature instrument and its final design phase is progressing steadily, supported by prototype work at Caltech and extensive testing on the imaging camera coatings at NAOJ in Japan. In addition, the construction of the new IRIS integration facility at Canada’s Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Center in Victoria is moving forward; lots of concrete has been poured, and this large facility is now taking shape.

Finally, an update of TMT’s Wide Field Optical Spectrograph (WFOS) was presented by Chuck Steidel, Project Scientist and Professor of Astronomy at Caltech. WFOS’ top-level capabilities were discussed extensively and good progress with the camera design showed that the instrument is on-track to become the most sensitive optical spectrograph ever attempted. Lots of design progress has been made since the instrument down-select in late 2018, thanks to the cohesion and expertise of WFOS’ international team.

Another topic of interest was the planning of the next SAC meeting in March 2020, which will contain a full morning dedicated to a joint session with the SAC of the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT). TMT and GMT, together with the NSF’s Optical-Infrared-Research Laboratory, have embarked on developing the U.S. Extremely Large Telescope Program (US-ELTP), that will provide full-sky coverage and 25 percent (or more) of observing time on each of these two facilities to the U.S. astronomical community.

The SAC members also addressed the organization of the next TMT Science Forum that will be held in Vancouver, Canada, in spring or summer of 2021.

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