FOROT - '3D Optical Turbulence Forecast above Astronomical Sites' is a Project funded by a Marie Curie Excellence Grant.  The aim of this Marie Curie Action is to create transnational research teams led by a researcher who has the potential to reach excellence in a particular scientific field. The Marie Curie Excellence Grants target European research teams who are working on a cutting-edge and interdisciplinary research in an EU Member or Associated State.

Elena Masciadri (FOROT Team Leader) applied to the European Commission in February 2005 for a Marie Curie Excellence Grant to create a research group at INAF-Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri, Florence (Italy).  FOROT has been selected for funding in October 2005 after passing a two-step evaluation process carried out by EC independent experts. She has been awarded a grant (~ 1.2 MEuro) to carry out outstanding researches in the field of the characterization and forecast of the optical turbulence for astronomical applications. FOROT officially started on the 1 April 2006 and it will last up to 31 March 2010.

The FOROT Team has been selected by the Team Leader (FOROT scientific coordinator) and it is composed by researchers having different background/expertises (High-Angular Resolution Techniques, Adaptive Optics, Physics of the Atmosphere, Astrophysics) working jointly to reach the main scientific objectives defined in the Project.

FOROT intends to carry out studies related to the characterization of the optical turbulence with measurements as well as simulations.
Our attention will be particularly addressed to boost the discipline of the characterization of the optical turbulence done with atmospherical models. Simulations with atmospheric models, indeed, provide information quite complementary with respect to measurements.

On this discipline relies the exciting challenge to implement a real flexible-scheduling system for ground-based telescopes  i.e. the optimized management of the allocated time for scientific programs based on criteria related not only to the excellence of  scientific programs but also to the characteristics of the atmospheric turbulence. Indeed, in spite of the fact that all new Extremely Large Telescopes (ELTs) projects plan to have a flexible-scheduling system, no telescope at present, employs a real flexible-scheduling system based on the forecast of the optical turbulence and none has yet a concrete plan on how to reach this goal.
The financial resources invested in ground-based astronomy are huge and only an efficient management of a telescope can get ground-based astronomy competitive with respect to space-based one. The forecast of the optical turbulence is therefore a crucial topic that is closely connected to the success and the survival of the future generation of ground-based telescopes. At the same time, an efficient search for and selection of the best astronomical sites in the world is difficult to be realized because measurements are not homogeneous, the site testing campaigns based on measurements are quite expensive and they require years to characterize a site. Simulations done with atmospheric models offer the advantage to provide analyses done in a homogeneous way, in relative short time on a large number of sites and they can be used to study the climatology of the optical turbulence.

In spite of the crucial role that these studies might play in Astronomy, researchers involved in this studies had to fight against several obstacles mainly due to the multidisciplinary nature of these studies at the frontier between astronomy and meteorology. The Team Leader of FOROT developed, in the past years, researches in this field contributing in bridging the gap between these two worlds.  To foster  this discipline, we need now to form a critical mass of researchers with interdisciplinary competences. In other worlds, the astronomers need to appropriate themselves of tools (atmospheric models) traditionally used by meteorologists and integrate these competences into the High-Angular Resolution (HAR) scientific community with the final goal to conceive a Next-Generation HAR (NG-HAR) discipline. This is the principal motivation for the existence of FOROT.

To reach an exhaustive knowledge of the optical turbulence features above an astronomical site, we also need to intensify our activity on measurements of  the optical turbulence possibly employing different techniques. Measurements are indeed fundamental to define the accuracy of simulations in different regions of the atmosphere but also to study performances of forthcoming AO systems. In the next future, we plan therefore to develop dedicated instruments/techniques at home.

The selection of the Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri (OAA) as Host Institute has been done to enhance the effectiveness of the scientific activity of the Italian community of the High-Angular Resolution. The FOROT Team works, indeed, in straight collaboration with the Adaptive Optics Group, that has played, for several years, a fundamental role in participating and carrying out many among the most challenging projects of ground-based telescopes and instrumentation at national and international level.

FOROT  GOALS

Our efforts will be concentrated mainly on two sites: the Mt. Graham, site of the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) and the Internal Antarctic Plateau, particularly (South Pole, Dome C and Dome A).  The Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri and the Italian Astronomical Community is indeed deeply involved in scientific activities related to these two places. Above Mt. Graham we will concentrate our attention on proving the ability of atmospheric models in forecasting the optical turbulence (3D CN2 maps) in a region around the telescope with the main goal to set-up a first flexible-scheduling system for a ground-based telescope (LBT) based on optical turbulence forecasts. Above the Internal Antarctic Plateau we will concentrate our attention on studying the ability of these models to discriminate between different places located on the same Plateau but characterized by different turbulent features.

The challenging objective at larger time scale is the application of this technique to Extremely Large Telescope (ELTs). We planned, in agreement with ESO, dedicated tests above astronomical sites pre-selected by the E-ELTs Project for the mid-term of the FOROT Project (~2008).


E. Masciadri 10/2006