Alien worlds? Far-off galaxies? Study sets US space priorities.
The National Research Council's once-a-decade study, released Friday, proposes the top priorities for US space science during the coming decade. NASA uses it as a blueprint.
If the Perseid meteor shower has whetted your appetite for matters astronomical, a menu of projects has been drawn up that promise dramatic cosmic discoveries over the next decade.Skip to next paragraph
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From observing the universe's first galaxies and black holes, which are thought to have appeared some 13 billion years ago, to building a detailed tally of the number of habitable planets around nearby stars, astronomers in the United States have developed an ambitious set of projects for the next 10 years.
The once-a-decade report releases Friday represents a two-year effort of consultation and debate to set priorities for the US space-science community, after sorting through hundreds of suggestion regarding major projects and programs researchers would like to undertake.
The document historically has served the blueprint federal agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, and the US Department of Energy use for formulating their astronomy and astrophysics budget requests.
To achieve the goals it lays out, the plan includes new ground- and space-based telescopes. It recommends increased support for projects that can be fielded fairly quickly in response to serendipitous discoveries. And it includes calls for closer cooperation among astronomers and astrophysicists in countries worldwide.
"If you look toward the future, we're going to have to be doing more, not less, international coordination and collaboration," says panel member Michael Turner, an astrophysicist at the University of Chicago. "The projects that we're doing are very big, very bold, and very expensive. And the scientific visions that we have are converging."
What the plan wants
The report was released Friday by the National Research Council's Committee for a Decadal Survey of Astronomy and Astrophysics.
On the ground, the committee's highest priority is the Large-Scale Synoptic Telescope, or LSST. It's a 8.4-meter telescope that is designed to photograph the entire sky every three days. Objects in any single patch of sky will get their portraits taken roughly 1,000 times over 10 years. The aim is to detect more rapidly exotic explosions and other transient events that a less exhaustive sky survey might miss.