On the 1st of April 2012, I took over the office of Director General of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ).
While Japan is recovering from hardships, I would like to chart a course for the future of NAOJ, based on a deep consideration of the responsibilities we have been assigned.
NAOJ is now in the final stage of construction for ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array). This interferometer has been a dream of Japanese radio astronomers. I remember, when I was a graduate student, I used the Nobeyama Millimeter Array and was impressed with its performance. It was apparent, even to a graduate student, that by adding a multitude of antennas, we would be able to take detailed pictures of the Universe that no other telescope in the world was capable of taking. Of course, we should build such telescopes at the best location possible to best utilize their performance. I recall that, even back then, there was a growing desire to build the Subaru Telescope atop Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawai‘i. It was quite natural that the next generation large radio interferometer telescope be built at the best site outside of Japan. The completion of ALMA is deeply emotional because it is happening on the 30th anniversary of the completion of Nobeyama Radio Observatory. I believe that many Japanese researchers, especially young researchers and graduate students, can achieve great results using ALMA. I encourage them to pass along stirring impressions obtained from their research to the wider Japanese population.
It has been 13 years since the Subaru Telescope saw its first light on the 28th of January, 1999. Today, scientific papers based on the observational results of the Subaru Telescope are being published at a rate of 1 paper every 3 days! The Subaru Telescope’s ability to capture a wide field of view in a single exposure outclasses all other similarly sized telescopes. Big achievements were attained by discovering distant objects, detecting large scale structures in the early Universe, etc. This year, Hyper Suprime-Cam, which can image a field of view 10 times wider than that of Suprime-Cam (which we have been using for the last 10 years) will come on line. This new camera will contribute to studies of Dark Energy and the formation history of galaxies in a variety of ways.
Furthermore, the Subaru Telescope has a reputation for its fine optical quality. Utilizing this, we are pursuing the direct imaging of extrasolar planets (exoplanets). While the Subaru Telescope can see the formed planets, ALMA can see the material from which planets are formed. With these complementary observations, the formation process of planets can be understood. Such a study will undoubtedly lead us to further investigations of life in the Universe.
To find an exoplanet that has oceans like the Earth and then to look for evidence of life forms, we need to go one step farther. I believe this can be achieved by the next generation 30 m optical/infrared telescope, which will be built near the Subaru Telescope.
April 1, 2012