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S. T. Ridgway (NOAO), F. Roddier (UH/IFA)
Increasingly intense activity in optical interferometry over the past two decades has led to the development and exploitation of numerous prototype arrays. As interferometry gains in technical maturity, science oriented facilities are beginning to come on-line, with at least 6 to be operational within a few years. These facilities offer major advances in performance. Each is, however, relatively specialized, or distinctly limited in some respects. Therefore, it appears to us timely to consider the possible configuration of a next generation array.
In order to exploit the interferometric resolution advantage to the utmost, an array with a significant number of telescopes and large (and variable) baselines will be required. Achieving the sensitivity needed for a wide range of science opportunities requires large, AO equipped individual apertures. The suggested concept, for planning and budgeting purposes, consists of 27 telescopes of 3.5-m aperture, distributed in a Cornwell circle configuration. Such a facility would most likely have a cost in the range discussed for a next generation large aperture telescope. The technical readiness is excellent.
With an array size of 1 kilometer, J band angular resolution would be 200 microarcsec, and characterization of sources as small as 20 microarcsec would be possible. Very high resolution interferometric imaging will enable detailed study of compact solar system, stellar, galactic, extragalactic and cosmological sources. The potential for studies of normal and active galactic nuclei, interacting binaries, and YSO's, are particularly promising.
This paper was prepared for presentation to the National Academy Decade Survey of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and profited from the advice of many colleagues.