December 2020 • 2020AJ....160..261R
Abstract • For nearly a century, imaging and spectroscopic surveys of galaxies have given us information about the contents of the universe. We attempt to define the logical end point of such surveys by defining not the next galaxy survey but rather the final galaxy survey at near-infrared wavelengths; this would be the galaxy survey that exhausts the information content useful for addressing extant questions. Such a survey would require incredible advances in a number of technologies, and the survey details will depend on the as yet poorly constrained properties of the earliest galaxies. Using an exposure time calculator, we define nominal surveys for extracting the useful information for three science cases: dark energy cosmology, galaxy evolution, and supernovae (SN). We define scaling relations that trade off sky background, telescope aperture, and focal plane size to allow for a survey of a given depth over a given area. For optimistic assumptions, a 280 m telescope with a marginally resolved focal plane of 20 deg2 operating at L2 could potentially exhaust the cosmological information content of galaxies in a 10 yr survey. For galaxy evolution (making use of gravitational lensing to magnify the earliest galaxies) and SN, the same telescope would suffice. We discuss the technological advances needed to complete the last galaxy survey. While the final galaxy survey remains well outside of our technical reach today, we present scaling relations that show how we can progress toward the goal of exhausting the information content encoded in the shapes, positions, and colors of galaxies.