National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

A new-year’s message from the Director General, NAOJ

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Everyone, happy new year of the Tiger.

While COVID-19 infections continue to ravage the world, Japan is little by little returning to normal. However, it continues to be a difficult situation for all of the employees, having to conduct research activities and telescope operations while implementing measures against viral infection. We hope that 2022 will be the year that humanity beats the coronavirus pandemic.

Activities to communicate astronomy results and space information to society have continued during the coronavirus pandemic. The live broadcast conducted during the May 26, 2021 total lunar eclipse racked up more than 2 million views. Also, the FUREAI (Friendly) Astronomy program for elementary and junior-high schools around the country has been conducted remotely since last year as a preventative measure against the spread of the infection, enabling it to safely reach schools during the pandemic, including Japanese schools located overseas. The other day, I had a chance to talk with the principals of three nearby elementary and junior-high schools, this made me aware of the very high value and high expectations they place on FUREAI Astronomy. It is also significant that FUREAI Astronomy is funded by public donations. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved, both inside and outside of NAOJ.

The activities to date by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Office for Astronomy Outreach (OAO) were highly evaluated, and we have entered a new agreement with IAU. This year, OAO will celebrate its 10th anniversary. We expect continued success under the new agreement.

In the Thirty Meter Telescope project TMT, 2021 saw important progress towards the realization of the TMT telescope. In November, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released the Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics (Astro2020). In the Decadal Survey, the US-ELT (Extremely Large Telescope) program was named as the highest priority in the Ground-Based Frontier Category. This is a big step for the project.

November also saw an international review by outside experts, in which the maturity of the TMT project was praised. NAOJ’s profile is steadily increasing thanks to the large contributions by all the employees in the NAOJ California Office, Tokyo (Mitaka), and Hawai`i.

The TIO (TMT International Observatory) Project Manager and the Director of the NAOJ TMT Project have relocated to Hilo. Together with NAOJ employees there, the Project Manager has met in small groups with more than 200 stakeholders in the local community. These efforts are vital for building trust and mutual-respect with the local community, and the role of NAOJ, with its proven history in Hawai`i with the Subaru Telescope, is becoming more important.

The actualization of TMT is extremely important, not only for astronomy, but for the overall academic development of Japan. I think that we can make TMT happen; or more correctly, I should say, allowing TMT to fizzle out uncompleted is not an option. But in order to create TMT, the most important thing is for not just everyone within NAOJ, but the entire Japanese astronomy community and the wider Japanese academic community to unite and declare with one voice that we won’t give up on the construction of TMT.

Technical demonstration of the production readiness continues. The challenging design activities for a 30-meter telescope have been completed and a large number of the mirror segments have already been manufactured. The technological maturity of Japan’s workshare is very advanced and is driving the entire TMT project. We are very thankful to the domestic manufactures who have expressed their continued full support for the TMT project.

Thanks to the efforts of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), we have secured the FY 2022 budget for TMT as a Large-scale Academic Frontier Promotion Project. With the strong will of the community and such strength of Japan behind us, we are determined to build an extremely large telescope at the best site in the world.

At Subaru Telescope, telescope operations are continuing through the efforts of all of the employees, balancing infection prevention measures, telescope maintenance, and open-use observations. It should be noted that the large-scale Subaru Strategic Program (HSC-SSP) using the ultra-wide-field prime focus camera HSC over 330 nights has been successfully completed. HSC-SSP is already producing scientific successes, but we expect it to produce even more and better research results.

The strategic plan using the infrared Doppler spectrometer IRD in cooperation with the Astrobiology Center has entered its 3rd year and has reached the point of being able to discover multiple Earth-like extra-solar planets. Also, high-resolution observations of extra-solar planets and planet formation sites are actively continuing using the extreme adaptive optics instrument SCExAO.

An upgrade plan for the Subaru Telescope has been formulated as the “Subaru Telescope 2.0,” and this plan receives a very high rating by MEXT’s Council for Science and Technology, making it eligible for support as a “Large-scale Academic Frontier Promotion Project.”

Development of the next-generation instrument Subaru Prime Focus Spectrograph (PFS), which is a major pillar of the Subaru Telescope 2.0 plan, has been affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic, but through the great efforts of the involved organizations, first and foremost the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (Kavli IPMU), things are proceeding favorably. In November 2021, the first on-sky test observations were successfully conducted. Tests and adjustments are ongoing, aiming to start science observations in 2023. I’d like to thank everyone involved for all of their hard work to date, and hope that the cooperative relationship between IPMU and NAOJ will grow stronger in the future.

The development of GLAO system, which is the heart of the ultra-wide field-of-view high-resolution infrared observational instrument ULTIMATE, can finally enter the full-scale manufacturing stage. The renovations as part of the preventative measures against the aging of the Subaru Telescope are proceeding steadily. I hope that the well-used Subaru Telescope will be reborn as a shiny-new Subaru Telescope 2.0 and produce even better science results.

Here, I must mention one terribly unfortunate event. In May 2021, Professor Naruhisa Takato, who worked hard for PFS with overseas institutions as the Director of the PFS Project, passed away. During a business trip, he fell-ill and died in a foreign country. I cannot express how unfortunate this is. We would like to express our profound thanks for Professor Takato’s contributions to NAOJ, and pray that his soul may rest in peace.

ALMA entered its 10th year since the start of early scientific operations on September 20 2011, and continued to produce a variety of scientific results in 2021. Although the spread of COVID-19 in Chile forced ALMA to suspend operations, it resumed scientific observations in March 2021 after a one-year break. This resumption would not have been possible without the painstaking efforts of every individual involved in the project around the world, including the staff of NAOJ Chile. The Band 1 receivers, ALMA’s lowest frequency receivers developed in Taiwan, successfully achieved their first light with two antennas in August 2021. In addition, preparations to implement a spectrometer for the Atacama Compact Array (Morita Array) are underway in cooperation with the Republic of Korea.

This year is the year to set the ALMA 2.0 project on track along with the Subaru Telescope 2.0 project. The MEXT Council for Science and Technology highly values the ALMA 2.0 project. The Advanced Technology Center, in cooperation with Osaka Prefecture University, has already succeeded in developing and testing a broadband receiver, one of the most important elements of the ALMA 2.0 project. We aim to achieve a full transition to ALMA 2.0 from FY 2023.

ASTE will recover from an antenna failure, and we are looking forward to results from the Band 8 receiver with wide IF-band and a new spectrometer installed at the end of last year, helping to pave the way for ALMA 2.0.

The Large-scale Cryogenic Gravitational Wave Telescope KAGRA has undergone improvement of various components in preparation for the fourth observing run (O4) scheduled to start in December 2022. The KAGRA Mitaka Control Room, newly established in Mitaka Campus, has now helped improve the performance of the components for which NAOJ is responsible and contribute to the fine adjustment of the main interferometer. We hope that KAGRA will achieve a higher sensitivity in O4 than it did in O3 and make its first detection of gravitational waves.

At the interferometric gravitational wave antenna TAMA300 in Mitaka Campus, discussions have started to continue the development of frequency-dependent squeezing, a quantum optical technology to improve the sensitivity of gravitational wave telescopes, and integrate this technology into KAGRA. Studies to improve the performance of KAGRA’s sapphire mirrors are also underway. Both technologies are scheduled to be introduced in the fifth observing run. NAOJ will continue to strongly support the KAGRA project.

Nobeyama Radio Observatory will celebrate its 40th anniversary this March and has still been improving its performance by developing new receivers. The current open use will end this March, but a new science operation system that charges for observing time will start in April. Mizusawa VLBI Observatory will end its astrometry observations with VERA this March. I expect that Ogasawara Station will be refurbished by the end of this fiscal year and stably contribute to the East Asian VLBI Network thereafter, enabling the network to achieve even higher resolution observations. Mizusawa VLBI Observatory has received much support from the local community, and I particularly look forward to what will result from the cooperation agreement concluded with Iwate Nippo last year.

Results have been released from the preliminary analysis of the soil sample brought back by JAXA’s “Hayabusa 2” spacecraft in which the RISE Project has been heavily involved. We’re looking forward to hearing the full report this year. RISE continues to work on models of the Martian satellite Phobos for the descent, landing, and accent of JAXA’s Martian moon sample return mission MMX. MMX’s launch is coming up soon in 2024, so things are getting interesting.

The JASMINE mission has been set to launch in 2028, aiming to conduct ultra-high-precision astrometry in the infrared for the first time and survey Earth-like exoplanets. The Solar-C (EUVST) mission has been set to launch in 2027, and is expected to build on HINODE’s achievements. The preparations for these missions are just moving into full swing. The CLASP missions, a series of experiments for ultraviolet spectro-polarimetry carried aloft by NASA sounding rockets, successfully completed their third flight in 2021. The flight of the SUNRISE-3 experiment, for which NAOJ delivered a near-infrared spectro-polarimeter, is approaching in 2022. I hope that our involvement in such orbital and sub-orbital missions will pave the way for NAOJ’s participation in major international space projects in the 2030s.

The Spectrum Management Office of the Public Relations Center is now in its third year of operation, and its recognition is growing. The office works with international organizations including the IAU and ITU to protect the environment for radio astronomy observations and to prevent and reduce light pollution. I hope that members of the OISTER collaboration, first and foremost Ishigakijima Astronomical Observatory, will continue to observe SpaceX’s Starlink satellites in the optical and near-infrared regions, and that these results will contribute to measures against light pollution taken by the various satellite operators.

The Astronomy Data Center has been playing a pivotal role in publishing data from ALMA and the Subaru Telescope, such as by constructing the world’s only visualization system capable of handling over 1 TB of FITS data from ALMA. During 2021, the Japanese Virtual Observatory (JVO) of the Astronomy Data Center handled massive access and download requests.

The Advanced Technology Center (ATC) is preparing to mass-produce corrugated horns for the ALMA Band 1 receivers with a combination of two cutting-edge processing machines: a 5-axis machining center and a metal 3D printer, both of which are already in service. This may be the first case of a 3D printer applied to a major facility in astronomy. ATC also aims to contribute to the research and development of Beyond-5G/6G-related and superconducting quantum technologies in cooperation with the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT).

I hope that in 2022, the restructuring of the ATC implemented last year will be settled, and that ATC will contribute to the development for both ground-based and space-based missions, aiming to be an international hub for the development of advanced instruments.

The Division of Science is about to enter its third year, making strides toward its initial goals: integration of theoretical and observational studies, multi-wavelength astronomy, and multi-messenger astronomy. The supercomputer ATERUI II, operated by the Center for Computational Astrophysics, has continued to be used by researchers all over the country and has produced significant results. The SKA1 and ngVLA Investigation Groups, both in their third years, are each working toward the next stage.

The 188-cm reflector telescope in Okayama, operated by Tokyo Institute of Technology, has continued exoplanet exploration despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, identifying eight exoplanets using the Doppler method and five more using the transit method. The 3.8 m Seimei Telescope at the Okayama Observatory of Kyoto University has been observing continuously throughout the pandemic due to the efforts of the everyone involved. Open use of the telescope, administrated by NAOJ, has been proceeding smoothly. The Optical and Infrared Synergetic Telescopes for Education and Research (OISTER), a network that performs collaborative observations using small and medium-sized telescopes owned by various Japanese universities, and the Japanese VLBI Network (JVN) are active in the fields of research and education.

The Industry Liaison Office has gradually expanded the scope of its activities to include academic consultation, joint development with industry, and participation in online exhibitions. These activities are vital in raising awareness of the advanced technologies developed for astronomy, and we look forward to seeing how these efforts will unfold in the future.

Here, I must mention the recommendations from the NAOJ-Community Communication Promotion Committee. It is felt that there are a lack of sufficient explanation behind the decision making process (particularly on the budget) of the Director General and the Directorate; a lack of consideration and compassion for people who would be affected by new policies; and a lack of sensitivity and flexibility to react and respond to warning signs, even though the community was issuing such warning signs before the problem grew out of control. As the Director General, I must express my sincerest regret and apologies.

To operate NAOJ in a more transparent manner as an Inter-University Research Institute, we are working to improve communication with the science community. To do this, we try to address not only the recommendations from the Communication Promotion Committee, but also all items that have been pointed out as problems, while receiving advice from the Executive Committee and the Steering Committee. The items that have been discussed and approved at the Advisory Committee for Research and Management are being implemented as soon as possible.

Last but not least, I would like to emphasize some points. Japan’s growth rate in astronomy research papers from 2010 to 2020 outpaces the global average, and among all natural sciences, astronomy has Japan’s largest share of the world’s research papers in 2020. Furthermore, NAOJ’s achievements and prospects are highly valued by the National University Corporation Evaluation Committee, and the Japanese government has considerably raised the FY 2022 budget for NAOJ’s great observatories. These are all thanks to the continuous efforts of our community and staff. Last December saw the NAOJ Future Planning Symposium take place with great success. Although you might feel a sense of stagnation looming over Japan, I look forward to working together with every member of the staff and the community to further advance astronomy research. I sincerely appreciate your continued support.

January 5, 2022
Dr. Saku Tsuneta