Written by: Jürgen Knödlseder, Chair, CTA Consortium

The CTA Consortium gathered on 3-7 June for its biannual meeting in Lugano, Switzerland, in a breath-taking location next to Lake Lugano (see image). About 200 scientists and engineers from 21 countries met during one week to share the results of their work, to make progress on the implementation plans for the observatory and to discuss the future. The event was organised and sponsored by our Swiss colleagues from the University of Geneva, the University of Zürich and ETH Zürich, and the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre.

The meeting started with two days of parallel sessions covering all aspects of Consortium and CTA Observatory activities, including site infrastructure, system engineering and AIV, calibration and test facilities, computing and software, data analysis and simulations, as well as science and outreach. The parallel sessions were followed by a one and a half day plenary session and concluded with a meeting of the Consortium Board, the governing body of the CTA Consortium.

The plenary session was opened with an inspiring presentation given by Thomas Schulthess, director of the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS) and professor for computational physics at ETH Zürich, who explained the convergence between High Performance Computing and Big Data, and the role of the CSCS. The session featured also a highlight talk by Matteo Balbo on Eta Carinae, summarising the science questions related to colliding wind binaries and demonstrating the science potential of CTA in this area. In his introductory talk, Werner Hofmann, Spokesperson of the CTA Consortium, also underlined the eagerness of the community to get CTA data. This was attested by the great success of the first CTA Science Symposium that took place in Bologna in May, which illustrated the many links that exist between CTA science and evolutions in other fields.

The Consortium was also informed about the status and outcomes from the various telescope prototypes. Highlights included the exciting progress of the LST-1 commissioning on La Palma, the first light of the NectarCAM Qualification Model on the Medium-Sized Telescope prototype in Berlin Adlershof and the detection of the Crab nebula by the ASTRI-Horn telescope on Mount Etna. Abelardo Moralejo and Johan Bregeon, respectively Coordinator and Deputy Coordinator of the Analysis and Simulations Working Group, showed interesting comparisons of prototype data with data from Monte Carlo simulations, illustrating the good understanding of the hardware. The understanding will even improve, thanks to a dedicated and impressive effort to refine the Monte Carlo model in collaboration with the telescope teams. Progress was also reported on the development of the software pipeline that processes CTA data from levels DL0 to DL3 and also produces the Instrument Response Functions. A reference analysis, including analysis benchmarks, is being established so that improved algorithms can be evaluated and subsequently proposed for integration into the pipeline.

The Science Working Groups also made impressive progress, as summarised in the presentation of Emma de Oña Wilhelmi, Science Coordinator of the CTA Consortium. The group worked intensively on the identification of multi-wavelength and multi-messenger needs for the Key Science Projects, which now have to be prioritised to develop a suitable strategy. Substantial progress was also made on the Consortium Publications, with the first papers being scheduled for submission within the next months. Details on the two most advanced Consortium papers, relating to searching for dark matter in the Galactic Centre and the propagation of very high-energy gamma rays across intergalactic space, were given in dedicated plenary talks.

Significant progress was also observed on the side of the CTA Observatory (CTAO). Federico Ferrini, Managing Director of the CTAO gGmbH, informed the Consortium about the progress in the transformation of the current CTAO gGmbH into a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC), about the kick-off of the activities for the implementation of CTA-South, and about the establishment of the CTA cost book that will serve as a reference for the future in-kind contributions to the project. In his presentation, Wolfgang Wild, Project Manager of CTA, summarised the progress on the implementation of CTA-North, CTA-South and the Science Data Management Centre (SDMC). Furthermore, he covered various project related topics, including project management and systems engineering activities, construction milestones and the SST harmonisation process. Finally, he took the occasion to thank the outgoing Project Scientist Jim Hinton for his important contributions to CTA and welcomed the new Project Scientist Roberta Zanin, who joined CTAO on 1 June 2019. Roberta gave a short presentation about the Project Science activities, including progress on requirements and science operations, as well as plans on the second Data Challenge and science verification.

Additional plenary presentations by CTAO personnel covered systems engineering, infrastructure, computing, communication and outreach. Systems engineering is finalising the design for CTA-North, of which many results will be directly applicable to the design of CTA-South. Also, Critical Design Reviews for the LST and the MST structure are scheduled. Infrastructure planning for the short project in the North that includes three LSTs and one MST are progressing well, with start of the civil work expected in the first half of 2020. In addition, with Paolo Calisse for CTA-North and Volker Heinz for CTA-South, site managers are now installed who are already quite active with the preparation of the site activities. The CTAO computing department, which is now led by the computing coordinator Stefan Schlenstedt, has the challenging task to get software and computing infrastructure ready for the first telescope acceptance in 2020 and the planned start of early science in 2022. A lot of work still needs to be done concerning the detailed system definition, requirement and interfaces, but formal development of the array control software (now called ACADA) will start soon. The outreach and communications office is also very active, and CTA is getting steadily increasing reach on the web, in social media, but also in the press and during conferences. Outreach and communications planning is also well under way, and a plan exists now covering the construction phase of CTA.

In its meeting on Friday, the Consortium Board discussed among other items the transition towards the new CTA Consortium. A new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was agreed upon at the last Consortium meeting in Berlin, and its signature has started on 24 May 2019. While the current MoU is based on the admission of institutes, the new MoU is based on the admission of individuals and their commitments on fulfilling CTA Consortium duties, such as contributions to the Science and Analysis and Simulations Working Groups, but also contributions to the development and construction of CTA elements and the development of analysis methods and tools. The new CTA Consortium is expected to be kicked-off by the time of the next Consortium meeting, but the completion of the transition to the new Consortium is expected to take probably more than one year.

The meeting featured also visits to the impressive CSCS, where attendants could have a look on Piz Daint, the most powerful supercomputer in Europe. A press event was furthermore organised during the meeting that highlighted the Swiss contribution to the exploration of the high-energy Universe, and the Swiss involvement in CTA. A relaxing conference dinner was organised on Wednesday near the lake at the foot of Monte San Generoso, where besides an excellent dinner, the attendants could benefit from a spectacular view on the mountains around Lugano.

The Lugano Consortium meeting was an excellent event, and in the name of the entire Consortium, I would like to warmly thank the organisers and sponsors for their hospitality and the seamless organisation of an unforgettable week.

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CTA Consortium Holds its Biannual Meeting in Lugano, Switzerland - CTAO