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Gemini e o futuro da Astronomia

Considerações do ponto do vista Brasileiro

Overview of Brazilian astronomical community

In Brazil, research in Astronomy has developed largely from the outside. Most leading astronomers today have graduated in different places in USA and western Europe. As a result, Brazil has a relatively small but diversified community, that is still strongly dependent on collaborations and support from more developed countries. Currently, there are strategic plans to develop research at institutional levels but not at a national level. Brazilian enrollment in Gemini is an example of its dependency on initiatives designed abroad: it was a window of opportunity to fill in a modest shortage of funds needed to build the telescopes, and it was internally led by a single public institution in the area.

Overview of the Gemini and their role, present and future

Gemini provides 8m class telescopes available to partner countries. Largely recognized advantages over similar facilities are full sky coverage, infra-red optimization and a strong adaptive optics program. I understand that, as it becomes obsolete in terms of aperture, Gemini high-quality, frontier oriented, research in the future will stem from these characteristics. This points to a process by which future instrumentation should be strongly focused on high resolution imaging and spectroscopy in the near and mid infra-red. As JWST is also going to focus on the same spectral region, the Gemini facilities may have to be further narrowed in purpose/application in order to retain some world leadership. The original suite of ASPEN instruments already reflects this tendency, as two of them were conceived to address the detection and analysis of exoplanets using known techniques, but subjected to extremely high standards (PRVS: m/s precision doppler measurements; GPI: extremely high contrast coronagraphy), both operating in the infra-red and having AO correction.

Excessive specialization, however, is incompatible with telescopes/instruments to be used by large communities, with research interests that span from Solar System dynamics to observational cosmology, and cover the full range of wavelengths and observational techniques. As a solution to this conflict (community interests x high specialization), one may envision agreements to trade telescope time between the Gemini and other leading observatories. In principle, such agreements may accommodate both a high degree of instrument specialization and community accessibility to a broad range of data types.

Overview of the future of Astronomy

It is impossible for me to foresee purely technology driven revolutions in Astronomical instrumentation in the next decade, as I lack the background on the field, and on current progress in related areas, such as optics and electronics.

Information technology, however, is providing an ongoing revolution. Data access and processing (including both reduction and analysis) are becoming faster and easier. This continuing process points to a future of extremely large and publicly available astronomical databases and tools for their analysis. Public availability of data, irrespective of origin, and with small or no proprietary periods (but involving organized and large collaborations), may turn out to be the best way to efficiently generate the most of science results, both in terms of quantity and quality. The implementation of national and international virtual observatories is already a reality. I understand that a possible scenario for the future, which not only involves technology but also institutional and political issues, is that the large telescope/instrument facilities may function in a highly specialized, complementary and less competitive, base among themselves. Each telescope/instrument would then focus on a particular observational niche, working on a campaign-like mode, with the large amount of data from all of them being made available worldwide in very short timescales. This scenario may be a revolution not so much in instrumentation (although it is capable of accommodating and making the best use of instrumental leaps), but in terms of institutional organization. It may be desirable, or even strongly needed, at some point in the future.

Basílio Santiago
Instituto de Física da UFRGS