AAL 2021/21 Annual Report – Vera C. Rubin Observatory

The NSF Vera C. Rubin Observatory aims to compile the deepest, widest image of the Universe at optical wavelengths ever produced. From 2024, it will conduct a ten-year survey of the sky from Cerro Pachon in Chile, using a specially designed 8.4 m diameter telescope with an extremely wide field of view (3.5 degrees).

In January 2020, the LSST Project became the NSF Vera C. Rubin Observatory, in honour of renowned US astronomer Dr Vera Rubin. The telescope itself will be known as the Simonyi Survey Telescope in recognition of a significant private donation made early in the construction phase, while the primary ten-year imaging survey program will now be known as the “Legacy Survey of Space and Time” (LSST). The LSST will explore the nature of dark matter and dark energy, map the structure of our Milky Way and nearby galaxies, catalogue the solar system, and search for transient objects. First light is expected in 2022/23, with full survey operations to commence in 2024.

LSST highlights

Funding success for Australian access to Rubin Observatory LSST data

Just prior to Christmas 2021, AAL received the welcome news that a consortium of 45 astronomers from 14 AAL member institutions had been awarded an Australian Research Council Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) grant for A$1.275M.

Over the next 3 years, this grant will help secure access for a substantial fraction of the Australian community to the LSST annual data releases. In combination with institution co-contributions and funding from AAL, the LIEF funding will support a team of expert software engineers based in Australia to provide software for Rubin Observatory, together with storage and processing power for an Australian-based LSST international data access centre.

The proposal team, led by Australian LSST Science Lead Professor Sarah Brough (UNSW), will join AAL in working with UNSW to manage this engagement with Rubin Observatory, as well as oversee the process for appointing Principal Investigators and Junior Associates. These individuals will gain access to LSST data and be able to participate in the LSST Science Collaborations.

Rubin Observatory at sunset, lit by a full moon. Credit: Rubin Observatory/NSF/AURA.
2021 Australian LSST Workshop

AAL was proud to host the 2021 Australian LSST Workshop, held online on Monday 13 Dec 2021. Australian Science Lead for the Rubin Observatory’s LSST, Prof. Sarah Brough, provided an update on Australia’s in-kind contributions and funding to secure LSST data access rights for 47 Australian PIs (and a further 188 Junior Associates). After that, Australian-based astronomers involved in the LSST spoke about recent work relating to the project and various LSST Science Collaborations, discussing how everyone involved can help build a better LSST@Australia community for everybody.

LSST filter
One of the 6 huge filters for the Rubin Observatory LSST Camera being inspected at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Image credit: Travis Lange/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory


The 2020 Mid-Term Review of the 2016-2025 Decadal Plan for Australian Astronomy recommended that Australia “Pursue data access to the Legacy Survey of Space and Time via the exchange of time on Australian national facilities.” Ultimately AAL and Rubin Observatory agreed that the most cost-effective way of securing LSST survey data access rights for Australian astronomers was by providing suitable in-kind software and computing contributions that complement the LSST operations and science program. In December 2021 the Australian Research Council announced that a consortium of 14 AAL member institutions (plus AAL) had been awarded a LIEF grant to support this engagement, with the balance coming from institution co-contributions as well as funding from AAL (see the main highlight section above for more on this arrangement).

Further information on Australia’s engagement with LSST, including the proceedings of the community workshop held in Dec 2021, can be found on AAL’s Vera C. Rubin Observatory/LSST page.