Report enlists top priority research activities for astronomy and astrophysics

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Washington, Aug 14 (ANI): A new report by the National Research Council has enlisted top priority research activities for astronomy and astrophysics in the next decade.

The report is based on the activity's ability to advance science in key areas, and for the first time also takes into account factors such as risks in technical readiness, schedule, and cost.

The report identifies space- and ground-based research activities in three categories- large, midsize and small.

For large space activities exceeding 1 billion dollars, an observatory the report calls the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) is the top priority because the space telescope would help settle fundamental questions about the nature of dark energy, determine the likelihood of other Earth-like planets over a wide range of orbital parameters, and survey our galaxy and others.

For large-scale, ground-based research initiatives that exceed $135 million, the first priority is the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), a wide-field optical survey telescope that would observe more than half the sky every four nights, and address diverse areas of study such as dark energy, supernovae, and time-variable phenomena.

"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," said Roger Blandford.

The recommended research activities are encapsulated by three science objectives: deepening understanding of how the first stars, galaxies, and black holes formed, locating the closest habitable Earth-like planets beyond the solar system for detailed study, and using astronomical measurements to unravel the mysteries of gravity and probe fundamental physics.

Other recommended ground-based research projects include the formation of a Midscale Innovations Program within the National Science Foundation (NSF), which would fill a funding gap for compelling research activities that cost between 4 million and 135 million dollars.

In addition, the report recommends participation in the U.S.-led international Giant Segmented Mirror Telescope, a next generation large optical telescope that is vital for continuing the long record of U.S. leadership in ground-based optical astronomy.

For midsize space-based activities, the first priority is the Neworlds Technology Development Program, which lays the scientific groundwork for a future mission to study nearby Earth-like planets.

The research recommendations represent a cohesive plan with realistic budgetary scenarios, the report says, with ranges based on current projected budgets for NASA, NSF, and the U.S. Department of Energy - the agencies largely responsible for funding and implementing the research activities.

The report notes that astronomical research continues to offer significant benefits to the nation beyond astronomical discoveries by capturing the public's attention and promoting general science literacy and proficiency. (ANI)

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