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Heising-Simons Foundation Grant Will Fund Equity and Excellence in Science

Aug 5, 2021

Twilight at Rubin Observatory, April, 2021.  Cerro Pachón, Chile. Image Credit: Rubin Observatory / NSF / AURA

The Heising-Simons Foundation is investing in the future of astronomy with a grant of just under $900,000 over the next 18 months that will provide researchers around the world with the opportunity to kickstart scientific research programs in time for the opening of the Vera C. Rubin Observatory. Under the title “Leveling the Playing Field”, this project will enable all astronomers to explore the potential of Rubin Observatory for Galactic, stellar, and Solar System science, through the work of Science Collaborations that are dedicated to these topics. The award will be managed by the Las Cumbres Observatory, a global robotic telescope network dedicated to time domain astronomy.

The new Rubin Observatory Legacy Survey of Space and Time is planned to start nightly survey operations in 2024. The highly-anticipated groundbreaking survey will transform many areas of astrophysics by delivering high cadence, multi-color, optical lightcurves for a vastly larger population of objects than it has ever been possible to observe. The Observatory will survey the southern sky more efficiently than ever before, probing all types of time-domain phenomena, and it will take advantage of modern data processing capabilities to generate alerts of new discoveries in real-time. This revolutionary facility will open up new opportunities to study a wide variety of transient and variable astrophysical phenomena.

The scientific community is laying the groundwork necessary to fully exploit the survey datastream from Day 1. The community is organized through the Rubin LSST Science Collaborations, eight groups with international memberships specializing in distinct scientific subjects.

The Rubin LSST Science Collaboration Coordinator, Prof. Federica Bianco of the University of Delaware, recognized that there is a need for a significant, regular, funding stream to support the work necessary to prepare for the new survey data. “The Science Collaborations, that today include nearly 2,000 scientists across six continents, have worked alongside Rubin to prepare the scientific community to capitalize on the LSST data for years, working largely on a voluntary basis. This grant will help three of the Science Collaborations make the final steps toward survey start and be ready to enable the scientific discoveries that the Rubin LSST is capable of, and to include all scientists in this discovery process.”

Program Lead Dr. Rachel Street of Las Cumbres Observatory shares the leadership of this grant with Prof. Bianco and the chairs of the participating Science Collaborations.

The grant funds will be applied in ways that will facilitate progress in research for all member scientists and overcome common barriers to entry for contributors from all backgrounds. Specifically, the grant will be used to cover the costs of publications in scientific journals, host meetings and workshops, provide access to software tools and platforms, and fund small science grants to researchers.

This grant will ensure that all researchers have an equitable opportunity to participate in laying the groundwork for the age of the Rubin Observatory and will enable a broader community to more fully harness its enormous scientific potential. Preparatory research is especially critical for time-variable and moving object observations and thus the community must be ready before the survey starts. Through this program, the whole community will have the chance to kickstart research programs to maximize the scientific return of the Rubin Observatory.

Dr. Street is especially grateful to the Heising-Simons Foundation for their vision and said “This program gives us a much needed and timely opportunity to kickstart research programs, ready for the start of Rubin operations. I hope it will encourage researchers from a wide range of backgrounds to get involved, and I’m excited to see the science they will do!”

Researchers interested to learn more about this program are encouraged to visit the new website Preparing for Astrophysics with LSST.