National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

NAOJ Director’s 30th Anniversary Address

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July 1, 2018 marked 30 years since the founding of NAOJ. On July 5, the NAOJ 30th Anniversary Ceremony was held at Hitotsubashi Hall (Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo) with approximately 200 guests in attendance. Here we present a transcript of NAOJ Director General Saku Tsuneta’s opening address.

On the Occasion of the 30th NAOJ Anniversary Ceremony

The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) was established as an Inter-University Research Institute in 1988, by combining Tokyo Astronomical Observatory, the International Latitude Observatory of Mizusawa, and a part of the Nagoya University Research Institute of Atmospherics. In 2004, the other four Inter-University Research Institutes and NAOJ became members of the newly created National Institutes of Natural Sciences. Since its establishment, NAOJ has developed rapidly and brought about many stunning discoveries with its state-of-the-art facilities. At the same time, NAOJ is an organization with a long history. NAOJ progressed instep with modernization in Japan, as you can see from the number of beautifully preserved Registered Tangible Cultural Properties when you walk around Mitaka Campus. This year marks the 140th year since the Meteorological Observatory, the predecessor of Tokyo Astronomical Observatory, was established in 1878 (Meiji Era 11; (note 1)). It is also the 119th year since the establishment of the International Latitude Observatory of Mizusawa.

I would like to review NAOJ’s progress since the “20th Anniversary Commemoration Ceremony” held ten years ago. First ALMA, which was built by NAOJ together with 21 countries and regions was completed in Chile, and has begun operation. In six and a half years over one thousand peer-reviewed papers have been published from ALMA observations and ALMA promises to maintain high scientific productivity. ALMA has been successfully constructed and operated through international cooperation. NAOJ has been internationally recognized as an important partner in ALMA. ALMA has become a major milestone for the development of science in Japan.

The Subaru Telescope, which started open access in the year 2000, has accumulated many achievements. Recent highlights include deriving the three-dimensional distribution of dark matter with Hyper Suprime-Cam (HSC) developed through collaboration with the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (Kavli IPMU) at the University of Tokyo, Princeton University, and Academia Sinica in Taiwan. In addition, the Prime Focus Spectrograph (PFS) being developed through international collaboration led by IPMU is scheduled to start operation in 2021. Expectations for this instrument are very high. In this way, the Subaru Telescope is poised to make further achievements as a unique wide-field telescope, a path that other large telescope cannot follow.

In addition, we are contributing to the construction of the gravitational wave telescope project “KAGRA” led by the Institute for Cosmic Ray Research, University of Tokyo. NAOJ is expected to be a center for multi-messenger astronomy when its full operation starts. At Mizusawa Campus, open use of “ATERUI II” has started. With 3 Pflops (note 2) peak performance, it is the world’s fastest supercomputer dedicated to astronomy. Modern astronomy requires combining the latest observations with theory and numerical simulation to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the Universe. We expect “ATERUI II” to enable a strong synergy between observations, theory, and numerical simulation.

In addition, in cooperation with the Institute for Space and Astronautical Science and NASA, we have had huge success with the solar observing satellite “Hinode,” the lunar orbiting satellite “KAGUYA,” the radio astronomical observation satellite “HALCA,” and the sounding rocket experiment CLASP. NAOJ continues engage in space-based research and development based on its scientific and technical assets.

NAOJ is literally an international research institute with the highest level of instruments for observation and numerical simulation. In progressing from the Subaru Telescope to ALMA, amazing images of the galaxies in the early Universe and protoplanetary disks, where extrasolar planets are formed, have been captured. We expect to make real progress in our understanding on dark matter, planetary formation, and life on extrasolar planets. All of these successes and expectations are thanks to support from the former Ministry of Education, Science and Culture; the current Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology; domestic and overseas universities and research institutes; the local people including those in Hawai`i; and our predecessors including the former Director Generals.

In constructing and operating these instruments, we actively collaborated with researchers from national, public, and private universities, and other institutes. We also opened the door wide for overseas researchers. NAOJ is also offering various opportunities for graduate students from Japan and abroad through the Department of Astronomical Science, the Graduate University for Advanced Studies and various graduate schools including the University of Tokyo. Nowadays, researchers who belong to universities and colleges located anywhere in Japan are able to write excellent papers with NAOJ’s facilities. Researchers in universities can take a leading role in the development of major focal-plane instruments for NAOJ’s large telescopes with external funds. These research and development projects provide hands-on opportunities for graduate students. I should mention that successful open use of NAOJ facilities together with the development of large-scale instruments by university researchers bring new stimuli and invigoration to the Inter-University Research Institutes system in Japan.

Currently, NAOJ aims to construct and operate the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), at Maunakea in Hawai`i with international partners. Its construction is becoming the most important issue in astronomy not only for Japan, but for the world. While we understand there are concerns about delays in the plan, we recognize that its success depends on our understanding and respect for Hawai`i's history and culture, to concrete permanent cooperation and contribute to solve local issues. People at Subaru Telescope continue to pursue these kinds of activities, working closely with concerned parties in Hawai`i. We are determined to construct TMT as rapidly as possible in Hawai`i.

Simultaneous with such activities, we utilize the scientific and technical assets NAOJ has cultivated so far to develop future plans including orbital telescopes. The Advanced Technology Center is our center for innovation for this purpose. International cooperation is essential for our future planning, and considering the potential of rapidly developing East Asian countries, we are keen to make the “East Asia Observatory” established by NAOJ and observatories in China, Korea and Taiwan active and sustainable, in addition to continuing successful collaborations with Europe and the US.

We transferred the responsibilities for operation of the Nobeyama Radioheliograph and the Okayama 188-cm Reflector Telescope to relevant universities for more effective use of these facilities. Likewise we should consider transferring other facilities as an attempt to optimize limited budget and personnel, so that we can proceed to construct large facilities. Furthermore, we recognize that we need to use the technical assets of NAOJ to respond to the issues facing Japan, such as contributing to industrial innovation and other government projects.

In the 2020’s we expect astronomy to make great progress in the exploration of extrasolar planets, extraterrestrial life, dark energy, and dark matter. Astronomy now extends to include such fields as basic physics and life sciences. Its position as an interdisciplinary and integrated science is impressive. Research in astronomy and related fields is progressing rapidly, and NAOJ continues to play a major role in astronomy as one of the world leaders.

We will endeavor to fulfil the three missions declared by NAOJ; “to develop and construct large-scale cutting-edge astronomical research facilities and promote their open access aiming to expand our intellectual horizons”, “to contribute to the development of astronomy as a world leading research institute by making the best use of a wide variety of large-scale facilities”, and “to bring benefits to society through astronomy public outreach”. Please watch for future successes from NAOJ. We thank you for your continued support.

July 5, 2018
Dr. Saku Tsuneta
Director General of NAOJ

  • (Note 1) In addition to the standard Gregorian calendar, Japan uses a reign era calendar. The different eras are defined by the enthronement of a new Emperor.
  • (Note 2) 3 Pflops = 3000 trillion floating-point operations per second