Five reasons the geosciences should care about the new astronomy roadmap

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A new 600-page report released yesterday describes what the field of astronomy hopes to accomplish over the next 10 years. Discovery paths in astronomy and astrophysics for the 2020s, or Astro2020 for short, is the seventh and final decennial survey of astronomy. It aims to assess the current state of the field and provide a roadmap for astronomical research and technological development in the United States for 2023-2032.

More than 1,400 astronomers have submitted more than 850 white papers expressing their scientific dreams for the near future.

As the name suggests, a new decennial astronomy survey is compiled and released about once a decade, although the release of Astro2020 has been delayed due to a month-long government shutdown in late 2018, and then of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 1,400 astronomers have submitted more than 850 white papers expressing their scientific dreams for the near future, and 141 people across 13 panels distilled those ideas into a set of recommendations from the astronomical community to funding and policy agencies. The ten-year surveys are funded and published by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.

Past decennial astronomical surveys have led to the development of flagship telescopes like the Hubble Space Telescope and its contemporaries, the Roman Nancy Grace Space Telescope, and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Unlike the past, no flagship telescope mission takes center stage in the new report, and therefore none has top priority for funding and development. Rather, the report recommends a number of small and medium mission programs, large ground observatories, a focus on workforce and societal issues, and a more strategic approach to large missions like JWST. .

“If we can really reach this new paradigm to develop great strategic missions at NASA. . .we can plan and develop them in a more coherent way, increase the launch rate and provide very important capacities over a wide range of wavelengths ”, Fiona harrison, an astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and co-chair of the steering committee for this decennial survey, said at a public conference on Nov. 4.

Astro2020 describes three major scientific themes for the next decade: the interconnected evolution of planets and stars from birth to death, understanding the most energetic and difficult to measure physical processes such as dark energy and gravitational waves, and mapping the formation and evolution of the universe. These priority science goals inform and justify the goals of the report’s program and telescope, all of which are supported and made possible by goals for the workforce and the state of the profession.

Some of the objectives of the report are specific to the field and profession of astrophysics, but many of the recommendations provide opportunities for collaboration with the geoscience community. Here are five takeaways.

1. Astronomy focuses on the sky, but its impacts are terrestrial

Most academic disciplines, including astronomy and geosciences, have long relied on in-person scientific activities such as fieldwork, telescope observations, and lectures. The ongoing pandemic has forced an increase in remote participation in science, which has created a model for moving forward in a more environmentally friendly way. “The astronomical community should increase the use of remote observation, hybrid conferencing and remote conferencing, to reduce the impact of travel on carbon emissions and climate change,” the report recommends.

2. The science of tomorrow must be fairer than it is today

“Everyone deserves the right to work in a professional environment.

STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields share the problem of having a workforce that is not representative of the world’s population, as well as being built on structures that exclude, discriminate and diminish systematically the contributions of non-whites. and non-cis scientific men. “Everyone deserves the right to work in a professional environment” Rachel Osten, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University and chief executive of the ten-year survey, said at the briefing. “We believe there is a need to take a stand on what we believe in as a field as to how people should be treated.”

Astro2020 includes a series of recommendations to address this issue, including, but not limited to, consideration of the demographics of funding proposals; define a model of community astronomy engagement that advances scientific research while respecting, empowering and benefiting local communities; ensure that scientific integrity policies treat harassment and discrimination as scientific misconduct; remove the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) from the admission requirements; and provide more funding and bridging programs for early-career scientists.

3. Laboratory experiments and interdisciplinary data archives

Planetary material science and other experimental lab work has been instrumental in understanding the most surprising and bizarre discoveries about the planets in our solar system, the evolution of the Earth-Moon system, the exoplanets that haven’t no analogue of the solar system and places that could host life. Astro2020 recognized the valuable role laboratory work plays in contextualizing astrophysical observations and recommended identifying areas of research that require more laboratory data, the resources needed to perform these laboratory experiments, and how to make this data is easier to access and use.

4. Finding signs of life in distant worlds is within our reach

The last decade has seen a rapid growth in the number of known extrasolar planets as well as what we know about the sizes, temperatures and atmospheres of these planets. The next JWST will continue to expand what we know about worlds that could be hospitable for life, but it probably won’t be the one that finds life, and neither will NASA’s next flagship telescope, Roman. None of these flagships have yet been launched, and the Astro2020 steering committee has chosen not to recommend any specific telescopes as the next flagship for development. Instead, they recommended an yet-to-be-designed 6-meter space telescope with infrared, visible and ultraviolet light observing capabilities that can detect biosignatures in the atmospheres of exoplanets.

The specifications point to a hybrid between two well-developed telescope ideas, PLAY (Large UV / Optical / IR Surveyor) and HabEx (Observatory of Habitable Exoplanets). The informally nicknamed “LuvEx” would be the first major mission (over $ 1.5 billion) to come from the Recommended Large Observatories Mission and Technological Maturation Program, a more strategic approach to large mission planning.

5. Large telescopes on the ground provide a complete picture of the formation of the planets

“These will be workhorses, possibly for following up on James Webb’s sightings.”

What is hidden under the atmosphere of an exoplanet? How does a cloud of gas and dust become a potentially habitable planet? Ground-based observatories help answer these questions by gathering light from young and still-forming planets at high resolution. Developing observatories such as the Extremely Large European Telescope and the Square kilometer table will advance these studies, and Astro2020 recommends two or three US-led programs to complement them: a next-generation long-baseline network for radio interferometry and a 30-meter optical telescope (i.e. Giant Magellan Telescope, the Thirty-meter telescope, or both, with a final decision made by 2023).

“These instruments offer up to six times the spatial resolution of Hubble” and better optics and light sensitivity, Robert kennicutt, a professor at the University of Arizona and Texas A&M University and co-chair of the investigation’s steering committee, explained during the briefing. “It just opens up the range of targets. They will be workaholics, possibly following up on James Webb’s sightings. “

From recommendations to action

While the 10-year surveys do not have the power to implement the recommendations they offer, funding agencies and policymakers will look to Astro2020 to help them decide which programs, large and small, to fund and expand into. years to come. “If a project didn’t rank very well, we knew it didn’t have community approval,” said Joel Parriott, director of public policy at the American Astronomical Society and formerly of the White House Office. of Management and Budget, Recount American scientist. “It’s really helpful for the people of Capitol Hill and the White House who have to make tough choices.”

– Kimberly MS Cartier (@AstroKimCartier), editor-in-chief

Quote: Cartier, KMS (2021), Five Reasons Why Geosciences Should Care About The New Astronomical Roadmap, Éos, 102 years old, https://doi.org/10.1029/2021EO210593. Posted on November 5, 2021.
Text © 2021. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Unless otherwise indicated, images are subject to copyright. Any reuse without the express permission of the copyright holder is prohibited.


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