UK Involvement in LSST: Phase A

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Institute of Astronomy


We propose a programme of work to enable UK participation in the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), one of the most ambitious science projects planned for the next decade, and a key part of the astronomical landscape in the 2020s. LSST will have both a large collecting area and a wide field of view, giving it an etendue more than an order of magnitude larger than any current or planned facility. This will enable it to survey the whole visible sky every few days, leading to both a stacked sky survey of great depth, and the ability to find moving, variable, and transient objects. It will make advances over a large range of science, from Potentially Hazardous Asteroids, through the structure of the Milky Way, to the most distant quasars, and the nature of dark matter and dark energy - all areas where UK astronomers stand poised to make leading contributions.

LSST originated as a US project but is now transforming into an international one. This mostly requires operational support rather than capital construction, which makes engagement in LSST tremendous value for money. Rather than simply being an old-fashioned sky-atlas resource, the best LSST science will come through organised, massive, and systematic exploitation of its vast dataset in international teams. For UK astronomers to play a strong role it is therefore crucial to engage early and fully - in science working group planning, in development of specialised analysis software (the so-called "Level 3") and to have a framework to implement and run that Level 3 code.

The LSST:UK consortium aims to meet these goals through a four-phase programme. The immediate request is only for Phase A (April 2015 - March 2019) but PPRP will need to understand the lifetime implications. There are three elements to the lifetime costs:

1. To allow full data access, LSST requires a contribution to operations. These funds will only be required in later phases, but we intend to complete our MoU before Phase A commences.

2. LSST requires that we make provision for the added cost of UK community access. Rather than hand over more cash, our proposal is to construct a UK Data Access Centre (DAC). This will enable us to fully engage immediately with LSST both scientifically and technically, will allow much more control for UK astronomers, and has a potential for industry involvement. Here we request initial Phase A study and development funding for the DAC. For longer term DAC construction and operations, we intend to target BIS-level funding as well as STFC.

3. To maximise UK scientific return, we further propose a community development programme for Level 3 algorithms and data products, working closely in conjunction with the UK DAC. Phase A funding will focus on assessing the project-provided Level 1 and 2 products to determine where we will need to target subsequent Level 3 funding to meet our science goals.

Planned Impact

Support for UK involvement in LSST, through funding the LSST:UK Science Centre (LUSC), can generate societal and economic impact under the following five headings:

The Phase A LUSC Data Access Centre workpackage shall exploit Big Data innovations within the LSST project in the US filter through to UK SMEs and that the challenging requirements of LSST inspire the development of novel Big Data techniques and technologies within the UK, as has been the case in the US.

2. Increasing public engagement with research through Citizen Science initiatives.

LUSC will develop a Citizen Science platform based on the pioneering Zooniverse project, which currently has more than one million users doing real science online. Computational advances between now and the start of LSST operations will enable Citizen Science activities that greatly exceed what is currently possible, and perhaps most exciting is the prospect of involving Citizen Scientists in the classification of the million or more transient alerts that LSST will generate per night, placing the public at the heart of LSST's pioneering exploration of time-domain astronomy.

3. Enhancing cultural enrichment and quality of life through education & outreach activities.

The LSST:UK Consortium institutions have a wealth of experience in education and public outreach (EPO) activities, from running Open Days and exhibitions to CPD courses for school teachers to Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs). During Phase A we will develop an EPO plan, in conjunction with the very active LSST EPO team in the US, for implementation during the later phases of the programme.

4. Enhancing the research capacity, knowledge and skills of organisations through the employment of researchers with high-level expertise derived from working on LSST.

Over the 18-year lifetime of the LUSC programme, many students and postdocs who have developed high-level expertise from working on LSST will pass from astronomy to the commercial sector, taking their valuable knowledge and skills with them. Particularly valuable will be the computational and statistical skills that will be readily applicable to the Big Data challenges prevalent in the public and private sector, and the expertise in thick CCDs developed through UK involvement in the LSST camera team.

5. Wealth creation, through the placing of construction contracts with UK companies.

The detector characterisation work to be undertaken during LUSC Phase A will also be helpful for securing a larger role for UK research institutions in the LSST construction project after the vendor selection for production CCD sensors is made, should that be determined by the LSST project in the US to be desirable. A number of UK companies possess the expertise needed to secure LSST construction contracts, and the technical and scientific involvement of the UK in the LSST through the LUSC Phase A programme would greatly aid that process.


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Description We have developed software to automatically classify stars and galaxies from astronomical images
Exploitation Route Via publication in scientific journals and release of software
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Education