Big Questions, Big Surveys, Big Data: Astronomy & Cosmology in the 2020s

March 11 - 16, 2018

On the eve of the 2020s, observational astronomy and cosmology are confronted with questions about the origin of our Solar System, the demographics of extrasolar planets and their host stars, the structure of our Milky Way Galaxy, the evolution of galaxies and their dark-matter halos over cosmic time, the nature of the mysterious “dark energy” that is driving the accelerated expansion of the Universe, and the completeness of our current theory of gravity. Across all these areas, the progress of science and technology has led to a landscape characterized increasingly by ambitious multi-year optical and infrared (OIR) surveys that cover large fractions of the sky and deliver petabyte-scale data streams and archives. These large-scale projects—such as SDSS, Pan-STARRS, DES, ZTF, DESI, Gaia, LSST, Euclid, and WFIRST — are redefining the scientific opportunities and methodologies available to new generations of astronomers and physicists.

This workshop is being organized on the occasion of the upcoming 2020 Decadal Survey in Astronomy and Astrophysics to gather community input and facilitate broad collaboration and coordination in addressing the following questions in OIR survey astronomy and cosmology:

• What are the most significant scientific questions of the 2020s that can be directly addressed by survey-scale projects and datasets using OIR facilities?
• What are the highest priority observing facilities for survey-scale astrophysics and cosmology, considering potentially new facilities as well as extended missions for existing facilities?
• What computing and software facilities, tools, and technologies will be required to maximize the data-intensive scientific opportunities that the large OIR survey datasets of the next decade will provide?
• How will theory and simulation connect to large-scale survey datasets in the 2020s?
• What are the most significant opportunities for survey-scale and data-intensive collaboration across multiple scientific areas and agencies?
• What new technologies in hardware and software - either existing or anticipated - merit further study for their potential to deliver transformative scientific capabilities?
• What are the major challenges and potential solutions in education and workforce development that are most important to the long-term success and sustainability of major survey projects with long timescales?

The structure and program of the workshop will build on the outcome of previous study processes (OIR System Optimization, Maximizing Science, Cosmic Visions), a complementary Decadal Survey coordination effort through NOAO, and the input of workshop participants, to facilitate the creation of community-based whitepapers for submission to the Decadal Survey process and to gather information in anticipation of the Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel (P5) that is expected to solicit community feedback beginning in 2020.


Conference Themes:

The workshop will be organized around three major interrelated Decadal priority areas, all of which are central to maximizing the science return on ambitious surveys in the 2020s and beyond:

A. Wide-Field Survey Spectroscopy (science drivers; implementation roadmaps; broader survey and facility landscape)
B. Methods for Survey-Scale and Data-Intensive Astrophysics and Cosmology (survey design; theory and simulation; measurement and inference; visualization and discovery)
C. Infrastructure for Survey-Scale and Data-Intensive Astrophysics and Cosmology (archives and data services; software and computing; education, training, and career development)

The goal of the workshop is to build consensus around these themes, and to develop multiple science-driven, community-based whitepapers within each area. We aim to facilitate collaboration on these whitepapers before and after the workshop as well as in person at Snowbird, and will provide more information on this effort over the coming weeks.



A preliminary program has been posted to the conference website and can also be viewed at the following URL:

The schedule includes plenary talks, parallel presentation sessions, parallel work sessions, and plenary sessions for summary and discussion of work done throughout the week.

The SOC will be contacting potential speakers and session organizers in the coming weeks.


Reading List:

A collected list of background reading materials submitted during pre-registration has been posted to the website and is also available at the following URL:


Scientific Organizing Committee:

Keith Bechtol,  (Large Synoptic Survey Telescope - LSST)
Adam Bolton,  (Co-chair, National Optical Astronomy Observatory - NOAO)
Kyle Dawson,  (Co-chair, University of Utah - Utah)
Scott Dodelson,  (Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory - FNAL)
Stephanie Juneau,  (National Optical Astronomy Observatory - NOAO)
Katrin Heitmann,  (Argonne National Laboratory - ANL)
Josh Peek,  (Space Telescope Science Institute - STScI)
Hans-Walter Rix,  (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy - MPIA)
Gail Zasowski,  (University of Utah - Utah)

Important Dates

Registration & Hotel Deadline:
January 31, 2018

Late Registration:
February 1, 2018 - March 11, 2018

Social Events

Opening Reception
19:00 - 21:00, Sun. March 11, 2018, at the Golden Cliff Ballroom.
Come meet fellow collaborators.

20:15 - 22:00, Thurs. March 15, 2018, at the Golden Cliff Ballroom.



The 7th annual Snowbird Workshop on Particle Astrophysics, Astronomy, and Cosmology (SnowPAC) is graciously supported by:


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