Big money, big telescopes and big questions in science

ʻO ka papa inoa makemake o Astronomy 10 makahiki: ʻO ke kālā nui, nā telescopes nui a me nā nīnau nui loa i ka ʻepekema

The show called for a large telescope to study exoplanets, as NASA developed to use shadows to block light from a distant star to practice studying the stars around that star. Found: NASA / JPL

Experts need to learn about the entire universe, but programs such as the Very Large Array for radio astronomy in New Mexico and the Chandra X-ray Observatory, which surround the World has advanced scientific knowledge in ways that would not have been possible without these things. musical instrument. Every 10 years, astronomers and astrophysicists reveal the essentials for the app that they need to make decadal research related to astronomy and astrophysics. The new version of the research was published by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine in late 2021, and debates are underway about funding for the next fiscal year.

I am a professor of astronomy whose research relied on factories and materials built after speaking some of these decadal research, and I participated in the first research, which was published in 2010.

The latest wish list is full of interesting projects, and it’s fun to see what money and research they get.

A meeting of ideas

Every 10 years since the 1960s, U.S. astronomers and astrophysicists have come together to create a first list of innovations and inventions.

It is important to trace the decade of astronomers because it requires everyone to stay on the same side and make difficult choices. It should provoke real thought, but when astronomers and astrophysicists from many subfields work together, they come up with ideas that progress across the entire field.

The latest report is called “Pathways to Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 2020s.” He directed the council and three federal agencies to fund much of the astronomical research: NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. There are billions of dollars.

Making the reports was a daunting task, with about 20 people on the main committee and more than 1,000 giving the final report. The committee reviewed 573 white papers arguing for specific projects and astronomical powers. The 615 -page report is not an easy read.

This kind of work works. Some of NASA’s largest scientific missions – such as the Hubble and James Webb space telescopes – have been researched and funded through decadal surveys.

Great science

The committee identified 24 critical scientific questions for the next generation of astronomy. This breaks down the three main principles of science at the most basic level, and the tools are organized on a wish list to address these issues.

The first is to study worlds like Earth. Thanks to explosive growth in the availability of exoplanets, the number of stars outside the solar system has doubled every two years. Among the more than 5,000 exoplanets identified are hundreds that are similar to Earth and can support life. A major goal for the next ten years is to build new large telescopes on Earth and in space with instruments that can “smell” the skies of Earth’s stars. attempts to identify gases such as oxygen produced by microbes.

Second, the development of multimessenger astronomy – a new field of astrophysics that takes knowledge about gravitational waves, low -frequency waves and electromagnetic radiation and integrates them into all of them. deep knowledge of the astrophysics beneath the universe. In this case, there is not much need for new scientific tools but for additional studies that allow researchers to work together and share the same data. The goal of science is to learn more about Earth’s explosions and combinations of complex elements such as neutron stars and black holes.

The final topic is to study the ecosystems, the more the origin and growth of galaxies and large dark holes at their centers. By looking at distant galaxies, astronomers can look into the past, because it takes a long time to reach Earth. Therefore, to understand these complex systems, scientists need large optical telescopes to look for galaxies as far away as the Earth, and radio telescopes to look at their earth’s core and show them. black holes.

Astronomy wish list

Here are some very interesting examples from hundreds of items on the wish list.

First, the report suggests spending US $ 1 billion on developing technology to build the next generation of “big spectators” in the air. The flagship of these missions-to be released in the 2040s with an eye-popping price target of $ 11 billion-is an optical telescope with a 20-foot (6-meter) large lens. This mirror is eight times larger than Hubble’s and is designed to study Earth -like stars in other solar systems – or even see life. The report also plans to build two small telescopes to work on infrared and X-ray waves, each with a cost of $ 3 billion to $ 5 billion.

But orbital forces are not the only goal of the show. The report is requesting funding to build a large optical telescope on Earth with a diameter of 80 to 100 feet (25 to 30 meters). That’s five to seven times the number of lights on today’s largest telescope. Two people are competing to build the telescope, which will cost nearly $ 2 billion.

The report also calls on the National Science Foundation to spend $ 3 billion on a new generation of 263 radio telescopes to cover the entire U.S. This telescope group can produce radio images with 10 times the heart and 20 times. times the best of a first house. scientists can penetrate the universe and discover things never seen before. Another item on the wish list is a $ 650 million pair of microwave telescopes in Chile and Antarctica to document the afterglow of the Big Bang.

This kind of money is necessary to fulfill the scientific goals of this space.

State of the art

Science is more than just searching for knowledge. As part of recent decadal research, astronomers and astrophysicists have taken the time to look inward and evaluate the state of the industry. This includes focusing on diversity and integration, the growth of the workplace and the contributions of astronomers to education and publicity.

These schools are white, with those from minorities making up only 4% of the faculty and students. In relation to the report, the groups spoke of remedial measures due to a lack of diversity and equity. These ideas include better education to reduce high attrition scores for young students, and funding for bridge programs to help young people establish their early careers and careers. treating abuse and discrimination as a scientific crime.

If it becomes a small part of the wish list, it will not only increase our knowledge of the universe, but also – as a whole – lead to a different society and love and love of astronomy.


Find life on other planets on the astronomy checklist


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