National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

New Year Greetings from Director General

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Dr. Masahiko Hayashi, Director General

Happy New Year!

Last year was a pretty rough year. Construction of the next-generation extremely large optical-infrared telescope TMT near the summit of Maunakea, which was supposed to start full-scale activity in April, was interrupted due to protests by certain groups. This was very unfortunate. Since the time the Subaru Telescope was under construction, NAOJ has taken many opportunities to have discussions with the people of Hawai`i and, in cooperation with the Foundation for Promotion of Astronomy, has supported regional activities to help protect Hawaiian culture. Through daily activities such as these conducted in Hawai`i, we have strived to explain the reasons for the Subaru Telescope and the Thirty Meter Telescope, TMT, to be constructed in the future. As the result of these efforts, the majority of residents amicably support TMT. But we still have not obtained approval from everyone. This year, we hope to somehow obtain the understanding of these remaining people, with the goal of starting construction.

On the other hand, there was also incredibly good news in 2015. Director Takaaki Kajita of the Institute for Cosmic Ray Research, University of Tokyo, received the Nobel Prize in Physics. Director Kajita is currently serving as the principle investigator for KAGRA, the Large-scale Cryogenic Gravitational Wave Telescope Project. Actually, NAOJ has been working to advance gravitational wave detection experiments in Japan; for example TAMA300, the 300 m long baseline laser interferometer gravitational wave antenna located in Mitaka Campus which now serves as the prototype for KAGRA. Around the year 2000, TAMA300 achieved the world’s highest sensitivity for that time and as a large-scale interferometer performed world-leading long time-scale observations. Many of the researchers who are now participating in KAGRA acquired experience at TAMA300. In KAGRA, NAOJ is responsible for many of the key components, such as the main interferometer, the vibration isolation system, the auxiliary optics, and the mirror performance evaluation. KAGRA will reach its ultimate capability as soon as possible and we are looking forward to the day when the detection of gravitational waves will become a daily event.

ALMA has finally started Early Science Cycle 3. This marks the first time that observations using long baselines, of about 10 km, have been open for science observations. As a result, it is now capable of taking pictures with spatial resolutions of 0.01 arc-seconds, 10 times sharper than that of the Hubble Space Telescope. So from here forward we can expect ALMA to produce outstanding image after image, like the one of HL Tauri’s disk which amazed us last year. This year, I look forward to showing everyone more unbelievable images like that.

At the Subaru Telescope, observations with the ultra-wide-field prime focus camera Hyper Suprime-Cam are proceeding smoothly. Last year, I showed everyone the first map of dark matter rendered by using this camera. In addition, last year the Subaru Telescope continued producing important scientific results, like direct observations of the production sites of the Universe’s lithium atoms.

I would like to say in closing that, these remarkable developments in Japanese astronomy have been accomplished based on the efforts of the NAOJ staff; the support of our elected officials, members of the various government offices, and people in industry; and most importantly the understanding of the many people in this country. Here at the start of a new year, I would like to reaffirm my gratitude to all of these people, and my commitment to the further development of NAOJ.