Using spectroscopy, which examines how matter and light interact, astronomers will now begin to study the atmospheres of hot large worlds for evidence of vital fingerprints or signs of life on other planets.
A second new priority announced in the report: seeking to understand what happened during the first moments of our universe by investigating the nature of black holesWhite dwarfs and starbursts. Through projects such as launching the Space Laser Interferometer Antenna, a proposed space probe that detects and measures gravitational waves, research in this field can help scientists discover new physics and refine our understanding of astrometrics.
The third priority will attempt to address the origins and evolution of galaxies and determine how these astronomical systems are intertwined. In particular, the researchers want to use spectroscopy to study the diverse structures that make up the environments around galaxies.
A new way to plan tasks
The commission’s report also says that NASA must create a new program to change the way projects are planned and developed.
“Instead of recommending and approving missions that will take many years, what we recommend to NASA is to create a line we call the Mission Major Observatories and Technology Maturity Program that designs and develops technology for missions before they become approved,” Gonzalez says.
This program will develop technologies years ahead of schedule for any space mission and provide early-stage checks and reviews along the way. This process usually begins when a task is recommended, but this program aims to halve the time between recommendation and launch.
Given the amount of time and money it takes to develop a mission concept, the report notes that a new approach could help increase the number of large-scale projects that NASA can work on simultaneously. Whether or not they end up flying, Gonzalez says. It’s about getting the right resources and support as soon as possible.
The first mission to enter the new program will be a space telescope that uses high-contrast imaging to provide new data on exoplanets, in line with Astro2020’s key priorities. much larger than Hubble Space Telescope, would be able to observe planets dimmer than their star by a factor of at least 10 billion. This will profoundly change the way astronomers view the known universe.
Today, the estimated cost of the project is about $11 billion, and if NASA approves it, a possible launch date will not be announced until the early 1940s.
On the ground
For ground-based observatories, the committee’s most important recommendation is to continue investing in the US Very Large Telescope program, which currently consists of three components: the Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile, the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii, and the National Science Foundation. National Optical and Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory, based in Arizona.
Astro2020 also recommends replacing the very large Karl Jansky matrix and the very long baseline matrix with the Karl Jansky matrix very large next generation matrix, A more sensitive radio observatory, to be built by the end of the decade.
The report says the success of each of these projects is essential if the United States is to hope to maintain its position as a leader in terrestrial astronomy.
Gonzalez says she hopes this year’s report will lead to new discoveries beyond the scientific community. “This community is not just astronomers,” she says. “It is astronomers and people who benefit from astronomy.”