Sunday, February 13, 2011

On The Horizon What Is The Next Big Thing?

The decadal survey for where astrophysics and astronomy is headed for the next ten years has been here for a few months now. The dust has settled; our course is set and we are full speed ahead. 23 scientists headed by Roger Blandford, a Stanford professor put their heads together and came up with a list of needs that focus on Extra solar planet searching, researching supernovae, defining dark matter and the origin of the universe within a tight budget. Now that is quite the tall order. Blandford , notes that astronomers are watching their budget: "The program of research that we recommend will optimize the science return for future ground-based projects and space missions in a time of constrained budgets and limited resources," he says. Astrophysics on a shoestring budget. To do this,  missions for the next decade need to be multiple pronged in their data collection. This will involve some great planning and innovation for these future projects to be successful. Ten years ago little if anyone had heard of dark matter. Now the race is on to pin DM down and make it give up it's secrets.  
artist's conception

The tools needed for this decade long push come in the form of the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), previously known as the Joint Dark Energy Mission. The new $1 billion-plus space telescope will enable researchers to study dark energy, find Earthlike exos , and survey multiple galaxies, including the Milky Way. 

The second front of exploration will be earth based and is named the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), a massive wide-field optical scope that will also help investigate dark energy. Scientist are looking to broaden their understanding of how the first stars, galaxies and black holes formed; to unravel the physics that drive these processes, including gravity and to find the closest habitable Earth-like exoplanets so scientists can study them in greater detail.Would you believe it both top-priority telescopes are already under way.The date of operation for this wonderful scope is 2015 so far...

Ten years have gone by and we are still waiting for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to get off the ground (launch)The  JWST is a large, infrared-optimized space telescope, scheduled for launch in 2014/2015. JWST will find the first galaxies that formed in the early Universe, connecting the Big Bang to our own Milky Way Galaxy. JWST will peer through dusty clouds to see stars forming planetary systems, connecting the Milky Way to our own Solar System. JWST's instruments will be designed to work primarily in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum, with some capability in the visible range.
The James Webb Space Telescope has a 6.5-meter primary mirror. and will be the premier observatory of the next decade, serving thousands of astronomers worldwide. It will study every phase in the history of
our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth. The evolution of our own Solar System will also be in the wheelhouse of this big space scope. JWST was formerly known as the "Next Generation Space Telescope" (NGST). JWST was renamed in Sept. 2002 after a former NASA administrator, James Webb.  The next ten years will see three new telescopes. The Webb is a very big drain in the exploration column of NASA's budget. That may hinder funneling money into the other two projects  right away. 

I am excited for the next ten years tight budget or not. If history is any indicator;  the economy will rebound and budgets will increase. We have so much data to crunch right now from all of the many space telescopes and ground base scope doing research  that we have a lot to look forward to these next few years. I parallel these time to the times of Galileo. The discoveries made with the new technology of the day (the Telescope) turned the science world on its ear and out of it modern astronomy was born. We are finding so much so fast in these hi-tech days and truly it is amazing to watch and take in. It is fun to wonder what the next ten years will uncover and wonder I will.
until the next time,

Keep looking up!

Steve T

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