U.S. astronomers want a giant telescope to search for new Earth-like planets

Using spectroscopy, which examines how matter and light interact, astronomers can now begin studying the atmosphere of large, warm worlds for evidence of biosignatures, or signs of life on other planets. .

The second new priority announced in the report: seeking to understand what happened in the earliest moments of our universe by examining the nature of black holes, white dwarf, and stellar explosion. Through projects such as the launch of the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, a proposed space probe that can detect and measure gravitational waves, research in this area will help scientists discover new physics and sharpen our understanding of dimensions. in astronomy.

The third priority will try to address the origins and evolution of galaxies and determine how these astronomical systems are involved. In particular, researchers want to use spectroscopy to study the various structures that make up the environments around galaxies.

A new way to plan missions

The committee report also says NASA needs to create a new program to change the way projects are planned and developed.

“Instead of recommending and approving missions that span many years,” González said, “what we recommend to NASA is to create a line we call the Great Observatories Mission and Technology Maturation Program that designs and develops technology for mission before it is done. approve. ”

This program will develop technologies years in advance when they are scheduled for any space mission and will provide audits and reviews at an early stage. Usually that process begins when a mission is recommended, but this program aims to split the time between recommendation and launch.

Given how much time and money it takes to develop a mission concept, the report suggests, a new approach could help increase the number of large projects NASA can do at one time. Whether they fly or not is not an issue, González said. It’s about having the right resources and support at the earliest possible time.

The first mission to enter the new program is a space-based telescope that will use high-contrast imaging to provide new data on exoplanets, in line with Astro2020’s top priorities. Larger than Hubble Space Telescope, it will be able to observe planets slower than their star by a factor of at least 10 billion. This could drastically change the way astronomers view the known universe.

Today, the estimated cost for the project is nearly $ 11 billion, and if it is approved by NASA, a potential launch is not scheduled until the early 2040s.

On the ground

For ground-based observatories, the committee’s highest recommendation is to continue investing in the U.S. 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 Science Foundation’s. National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory, based in Arizona.

Astro2020 also recommends that the Karl Jansky Very Large Array and the Very Long Baseline Array be replaced with Next-Generation Very Large Array, 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 crucial if the United States hopes to maintain its position as a leader in land-based astronomy.

González said he hopes this year’s report will bring new discoveries to the forefront of the scientific community. “This community isn’t just astronomers,” he said. “It’s the astronomers and the people who have benefited from astronomy.”

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