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NASA awards new cooperative agreement to Keck Observatory

Updated: 
September 12, 2017 - 12:50am

WAIMEA — NASA has awarded a five-year cooperative agreement with the California Association for Research in Astronomy to continue the science program at W.M. Keck Observatory.

Under the new agreement, which takes effect March 1, 2018 through Feb. 28, 2023, Keck Observatory will support upcoming NASA missions, including the James Webb Space Telescope, Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), Euclid (ESA), Mars 2020, Explorers Program: Medium-Class Explorers (MIDEX), Small Explorers (SMEX), and Planetary Missions: Discovery, New Frontiers.

The next-generation space-based NASA missions, in conjunction with ground-based support from the world’s most scientifically productive optical/infrared telescopes at Keck Observatory on Maunakea, will allow the nation’s scientists to obtain new knowledge from never-before-seen views of the universe.

“NASA’s investment gives our science community a seat at the table for observatory governance and scientific planning, helping to shape the future observatory capabilities and operations model in a way that is highly beneficial to the NASA science program,” said Hashima Hasan, NASA program scientist for Keck Observatory.

The Keck Observatory is privately owned. In 1994 NASA contributed to the observatory and has been a partner ever since.

“The Keck Observatory has unique, world-class capabilities that we consider essential to realize the scientific potential of many NASA missions, both ongoing and planned,” said Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters. “NASA’s continuing partnership with Keck will ensure that astronomers and planetary scientists can carry out important ground-based observations necessary for the success of NASA missions and their scientific objectives.”

Current Keck Observatory observations are already characterizing targets, assembling input catalogs and refining calibrations for Webb, Euclid, TESS, Europa Clipper and WFIRST.

With this agreement in place, NASA and Keck Observatory will continue conducting scientific investigations specifically designed to advance quests to find habitable Earthlike exoplanets, unravel the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter, discover potential microbial life on Mars and support future planetary missions, including a visit to Jupiter’s moon Europa.

“Keck Observatory’s advanced instrumentation suite continues to evolve and grow, and promises breakthrough discoveries in several scientific areas,” said Mario Perez, a NASA Program executive for Keck Observatory. “This includes probing the cosmic history of galaxy evolution, tracing chemical evolution, characterizing photospheric properties of planetary system hosts and mapping and monitoring volcanic hot spots on Jupiter’s moon Io.”

In the last five years alone, Keck Observatory has been critical in supporting a variety of NASA astrophysics and planetary space missions, such as Cassini, JUNO, Deep Impact (EPOXI), WISE, New Horizons, SOFIA, MESSENGER, and LCROSS, among others.

The NASA-Keck collaboration has also been instrumental in making 25 years of Keck Observatory data publicly accessible via the Keck Observatory Archive (KOA). KOA capabilities have improved in recent years and it now serves as a repository of all the high-value data obtained at the Observatory

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