Symposium on Future U.S. Ground-based Astronomy in the Global Context

Interacting Galaxy NGC 5331 Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and A. Evans (University of Virginia, Charlottesville/NRAO/Stony Brook University)Interacting Galaxy NGC 5331 Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and A. Evans (University of Virginia, Charlottesville/NRAO/Stony Brook University)

Kavli Futures Symposium XII

Symposium on Future U.S. Ground-based Astronomy in the Global Context
16-17 January 2014, JW Marriott Hotel, Santa Monica, CA

For almost a hundred years the U.S. has been a dominant force in ground-based observational astronomy, enabled through significant private philanthropic, federal and state investments in university and national observatories, institutes and centers that support major astronomical facilities and instrumentation. However, over the last decade or so, several factors have begun to challenge the viability and future competitiveness of U.S. ground-based astronomy.  These include: the rapid increase in investment in astronomy research and forefront facilities by the rest of the world, the significantly increased real costs of global facilities such as Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), 30m-class O/IR telescopes and the Square Kilometre Array, and a declining commitment within the U.S. federal and state governments and the university community to make the ever-increasing investments in observatories and their critical infrastructure in the face of economic pressure.

The New Worlds New Horizons Decadal Survey presented scientific recommendations on U.S. astronomy in 2010, but the future for U.S. ground-based astronomy in the coming decade has become very challenging.  While it is impossible to forecast budget trends accurately over such a long time scale, the long-term negative impact of a persistently pessimistic budget outlook cannot be underestimated, leading to the best minds choosing to avoid astronomy as a career or to leave the U.S. community, inhibiting new ideas and stalling plans for the future.  If the dire outlook is not reversed soon, U.S. ground-based astronomy is in danger of losing its excellence and competitiveness internationally in the coming decade and beyond.

This 12th Kavli Futures Symposium aimed to develop a positive vision for how to maintain excellence in future U.S. ground-based astronomy in the era of billion-dollar class facilities, in which international collaboration is inevitable and necessary.  The meeting did not revisit the science priorities of the decadal survey, but focused on (1) examining the new realities U.S. astronomy is facing domestically and abroad, and how it needs to adapt in the new global environment, (2) coming to a consensus on novel approaches for maintaining and funding vibrant research at the universities and research centers, coupled with a flexible and innovative system of domestic observatories and laboratories, (3) developing a more coherent structure in U.S. astronomy in order to engage proactively strategic international collaborations to build and operate next-generation world-class facilities, (4) articulating a clear and realistic roadmap of how to move U.S. ground-based astronomy forward to maintain its excellence in the global context, and (5) developing actions to strengthen the communication of broader societal impact of astronomy to the public, Congress and the Administration to gain their support.

In order to be effective, the scope of this symposium was confined to addressing ground-based astronomy efforts primarily.

Science Organizing Committee

  • Fred K. Y. Lo (Chair)
    Distinguished Astronomer and Director-Emeritus
    National Radio Astronomy Observatory

  • Martha Haynes
    Professor of Astronomy
    Cornell University

  • Matt Mountain
    Space Telescope Science Institute

  • Anthony Readhead
    Professor of Astronomy
    California Institute of Astronomy

  • Debra Elmegreen
    Past President of the AAS
    Professor of Astronomy
    Vassar College

  • Garth Illingworth
    Professor of Astronomy
    UCO/Lick Observatory
    UC Santa Cruz

  • Patrick Osmer
    Professor of Astronomy
    Vice Provost for Graduate Studies
    Dean of the Graduate School
    Ohio State University



  • Roger Blandford
    Luke Blossom Professor
    in the School of Humanities and Sciences
    Stanford University/KIPAC

  • Bruce Carney
    Distinguished Professor
    The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  • Sandy Faber
    Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics,
    Interim Director
    UC Observatories, University of California

  • Andrea Ghez
    UCLA Physics & Astronomy

  • Buell Jannuzi
    Professor, Director of Steward Observatory,
    Department Head of Astronomy
    University of Arizona Steward Obs. Annex

  • Markus Kissler-Patig
    Director, Gemini Observatory
    Northern Operations Center

  • Caty Pilachowski
    Daniel Kirkwood Chair in Astronomy
    Indiana University, Astronomy Department

  • Paul Schechter
    William A. M. Burden Professor of Astrophysics
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • Michael Turner
    Rauner Distinguished Service Professor/Director
    The University of Chicago
    Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics

  • J. Craig Wheeler
    Samuel T. & Fern Yanagisawa Regents Ast. Prof.
    Distinguished Teaching Professor
    The University of Texas at Austin

  • Chick Woodward
    Program Director, Astrophysics
    University of Minnesota

  • Tony Beasley
    National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO)

  • Todd Boroson
    Las Cumbres Observatory

  • Julianne Dalcanton
    University of Washington

  • Wendy Freedman
    Obs. of the Carnegie Institution for Science

  • Jackie Hewitt

  • Steven Kahn
    Cassius Lamb Kirk Prof. of Natural Sciences,
    Director, Large Synoptic Survey Telescope
    Stanford University SLAC/KIPAC

  • Shri Kulkarni
    Professor of Astronomy, Planetary Science;
    Director, Caltech Optical Observatories
    California Institute of Technology

  • Anneila Sargent
    Ira S. Bowen Professor of Astronomy;
    Vice President for Student Affairs
    California Institute of Technology

  • David Silva
    National Optical Astronomy Observatory

  • Meg Urry
    Israel Munson Prof Physics & Astronomy,
    Director, Yale Center Astronomy & Astrophysics
    Yale University

  • Eric Wilcots
    Associate Dean
    University of Wisconsin