With the help of spectroscopy, which studies how matter and light interact, astronomers will now begin to examine the atmospheres of large, hot worlds for evidence of biosignatures or signs of life on other planets.
The second new priority announced in the report is trying to understand what happened in the earliest moments of our universe by studying the nature of black holes, white dwarfs, and stellar explosions. Through projects such as the launch of the laser interferometer space antenna, a proposed space probe that will detect and measure gravitational waves, research in the field could help scientists discover new physics and improve our understanding of astronomical measurements.
The third priority will seek to study the origin and evolution of galaxies and determine how these astronomical systems are intertwined. In particular, the researchers want to use spectroscopy to investigate the diverse structures that make up the surroundings of galaxies.
A new way to plan missions
The committee’s report also says NASA should create a new program to change the way projects are planned and developed.
“Rather than recommending and approving missions that will take so many years,” says González, “we encourage NASA to create a line we call the Great Observatories Mission and Technology Maturation Program that designs and develops technology for missions before they are. “admitted.”
This program would develop technologies years in advance of the time it is scheduled for a space mission, while performing early-stage reviews and reviews. Usually this process starts when a mission is recommended, but this program aims to cut the time between recommendation and launch in half.
Given the time and expense involved in developing a mission concept, a new approach could help increase the number of large projects NASA could work on concurrently. Whether they end up flying or not is not an issue, says González. It’s about having the right resources and support as early as possible.
The first mission to be included in the new program will be a space-based telescope that uses high-contrast imaging to provide new data on exoplanets in line with Astro2020’s top priorities. Significantly larger than the Hubble Space Telescope, it will be able to observe planets that are fainter than their star by a factor of at least 10 billion. This will fundamentally change the way astronomers view the known universe.
Today, the estimated cost of the project is around $ 11 billion, and if approved by NASA, a possible launch is not planned until the early 2040s.
On the floor
For ground-based observatories, the committee’s top recommendation is to continue investing in the US Extremely Large Telescope Program, which currently consists of three elements: the Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile, the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii and the National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory based in Arizona.
Astro2020 also recommends replacing the Karl Jansky Very Large Array and Very Long Baseline Array with the Next-Generation Very Large Array, a much more sensitive radio observatory due to be built by the end of the decade.
The report says the success of any of these projects is vital if the United States hopes to maintain its leadership position in ground-based astronomy.
González hopes this year’s report will lead to new discoveries that reach beyond the scientific community. “This community isn’t just made up of astronomers,” she says. “It is the astronomers and the people who benefit from astronomy.”