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Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas, United States
10 - 15 June 2018
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Updates from observatories around the world: existing, in progress, and planned

At SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation 2018 attendees will get updates from most of the observatories around the world, both in-space and on-land, and from those currently in operation, in construction, and even those still being imagined. As the five-day conference kicked off on Sunday, the rooms were packed full of researchers and engineers wanting to hear the latest achievements from their peers.

Michael McElwain presents at SPIE Astro 2018

Michael McElwain of NASA Goddard presents at SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation 2018

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)

In a Sunday morning presentation by NASA Goddard's Michael McElwain, progress on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was presented. The research astrophysicist reported that the team has been making excellent progress, and said, "To date, JWST testing and analysis suggests that all performance requirements can be achieved."

On his summary slide, McElwain stated, "Once complete JWST will carry out transformative science from the very early universe and across cosmic time."

Very Large Telescope (VLT)

Luca Passaquini, Paranal Instrumentation Programme Manager at the European Space Organization (ESO), gave an insightful presentation on their program for planning and delivering instruments and the associated infrastructures needed to keep the Very Large Telescope (VLT) and La Silla Observatories at the forefront of ground-based astronomy.

Explaining the process and status of current and future upgrades, Passaquini excitedly told the audience that they have already completed their 2nd generation projects, which include ESPRESSO (The Echelle Spectrograph for Rocky Exoplanet and Stable Spectroscopic Observations), GRAVITY, and MATISSE (the Multi-Aperture mid-Infrared Spectroscopic Experiment).

W.M. Keck Observatory

Instrument Program Manager at the W.M. Keck Observatory, Marc Kassis, shared the latest advances of various instruments at the observatory. He began by recognizing the institutions that assist with the Keck research: Cal Tech, University of California, NASA, and the University of Hawaii.
An update on the Keck Cosmic Reionization Mapper, part of the Keck Cosmic Web Imager (KWIC), was one of the highlights of the presentation, as Marc announced that it is set to see first light in the Summer of 2020. His passion for the project was evident when he exclaimed, "This instrument is awesome," while talking about KWIC. He wrapped up his talk by mentioning that the MOSFIRE (multi-object spectrometer for infrared exploration) mission is "better than ever."

Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA)

An invited talk by Science Mission Operations Director of Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), Harold Yorke, drew a crowd on Sunday evening. Harold gave a brief overview of SOFIA and its six instruments but spent most of the time showcasing how SOFIA is a "complement" to ALMA and JWST. From the vast infrared real estate SOFIA covers to its ability for regular updates (it returns to base every night), SOFIA has many advantages.

Yorke spiked the interested of the crowd by posing the infamous question, "Is there life on Mars?" He quickly answered his own question, letting the audience know that SOFIA's findings have been consistent with other studies thus far - not enough methane on Mars to sustain life, although he added, "speculation still continues."

Each presentation was full of innovative science and engineering details, but what was most impressive of them all was the excitement and pride each speaker had when talking about their instruments and observatories. The week here at SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation is young, but off to a great start. There is sure to be more exciting updates from the global community represented here in Austin.