2006 ASP Annual Award Recipients
and Eric Muhlmann Award
Michael Skrutskie, University of Virginia, USA
and The 2MASS team
The Two-Micron All Sky Survey, 2MASS, was conceived as a logical extension of the original Two-micron Sky Survey (TMSS) carried out by Neugebauer and Leighton in the 1960’s. Neugebauer and Leighton realized that military development of PbS detectors for surveillance opened up a unique opportunity to explore the sky at infrared wavelengths four decades ago. A similar renaissance in technology stimulated by detector development for the Hubble Space Telescope (also leveraging military investments) in the 1990’s created an opportunity to carry out an all-sky survey in the near infrared with sensitivity gains of 1000-fold over the original two-micron sky survey and thus usher in the era where infrared observations played a dominant role in many astronomical investigations. Originally promoted by Susan Kleinmann of the University of Massachusetts, Michael Skrutskie became the principal investigator soon after the project's inception and guided it to a successful completion and incremental public release starting in 2000, improving upon the state of the art by about three orders of magnitude.
2MASS has revolutionized modern astronomy. Like its forerunners, the TMSS and All Sky Survey carried out with the 48” Schmidt telescope at Palomar Mountain, 2MASS has become an essential reference base for modern investigations, like the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and 2dF and 6dF surveys. The major discoveries resulting from 2MASS are:
the identification of an entire new class of stars, the L- and T-dwarfs, with masses well down into the brown dwarf regime below the nuclear burning limit for hydrogen in stars,
characterization of Galactic structure and its interaction with satellite galaxies by penetrating the obscuration by dust that pervades visual observations,
revealing obscured star formation regions in the Galaxy that cannot be seen at visual wavelengths owing to dust,
the discovery of (infra-) red quasars,
an accurate census of nearby galaxies,
and a refined understanding of the cosmic background radiation at near-infrared wavelengths.
The success of 2MASS is the result of years of dedication and astute guidance from the team’s leaders. Indeed, the original concept of 2MASS was brilliant but unable to meet its potential until Skrutskie and his collaborators took on the management of the project. They guided the construction of two telescopes, one each in the northern and southern hemisphere, built dedicated instrumentation to run remotely and automatically and return data products with a high degree of reliability. The data processing involved an entirely new level of sophistication in processing ground-based infrared observations and ultimately met the goals of better than 3% photometric accuracy, >99% completeness to a J-band magnitude of 16, and >99.95% source reliability. Many of the achievements of this team were judged impossible by others at the gestation of the project.
2MASS team advanced astronomy in exactly the manner envisioned for
the Muhlmann award, and the ASP has the privilege of bestowing the
award on the 2MASS team.