Finding habitable worlds must be a priority this decade, say U.S. science advisers

The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine have released the results of their latest decennial survey, which describes the scientific goals of the astronomical community over the next 10 years. The top three priorities, report said, find Earth-like exoplanets, better understand the nature of the densest objects in the universe, and dramatically improve our understanding of the birth and growth of galaxies.

“This report sets out an ambitious, inspiring and ambitious vision for the next decade of astronomy and astrophysics,” said Fiona Harrison, chair of the division of physics, mathematics and astronomy at the California Institute of Technology, and co-chair of the steering committee. . , in a national academy Press release.

“By changing the way we plan the most ambitious strategic space projects, we can develop a broad portfolio of missions to pursue visionary goals, such as the search for life on planets orbiting stars in our galactic neighborhood. – and at the same time harness the wealth of 21st century astrophysics through a panchromatic fleet, ”added Harrison.

Inhabitable worlds are already objects of intrigue for many astrophysicists, of course. Much of the research has been conducted by the Kepler Space Telescope and the Satellite for the study of exoplanets in transit (TESS), which watches the stars to see their luminosity drop as the planets pass in front of them. Of our time, we find exoplanets all the time, but a decreasing number of them resemble Earth enough to even warrant the mention of the “H” word.

An illustration of the Kepler 1649-C surface.

Looking well ahead of existing science is the only way to see through long term plans like opening up the Rubin Observatory or the delivery of Martian rock samples to Earth. While NASA has its forward-looking discovery program (essentially an accelerator for proposed science missions), the National Academies’ investigation is an independent effort that collects opinions from hundreds of white papers, town halls and contributions of 13 expert groups. The book is a reference document on what the astronomical and astrophysical communities focus on.

Besides the lure of planets that could harbor life, the report stresses the importance of understanding black holes and neutron stars, as their origins, growth, and collisions remain among the most enigmatic and intense phenomena on the planet. the astrophysical plane of the known universe. Better understanding these dense objects would be a boon for understanding subatomic physics, theoretical physics, and even how the two types of objects interact, the first observation of which was done only recently.

Another key theme of the report is the exploration of the birth and evolution of galaxies. This research will help us understand how different elemental cocktails give way to different kinds of galaxies, and further observations by next-generation telescopes will be crucial to this effort. The Inheritance survey for space and time, in particular, a product of the soon-to-be-operational Rubin Observatory will address these questions.

The report also suggests that NASA is creating new programs to advance technologies and establish new observatories, including another space telescope that is said to be larger than Hubble and could observe objects in infrared, optical and ultraviolet light. The report put the cost of the telescope at $ 11 billion, with a proposed launch in the first half of 2040.

The National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy are expected to set up a ground-based observatory to study the early days of the universe, according to the survey, and they are expected to replace two large radio observatories with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Very large new generation bay. This planned bay will be 10 times more sensitive than its predecessors.

Previous decennial surveys have approved many projects we know and love today, including the Mars rover Perseverance and the New Horizons mission to Pluto.

More: 7 things to know about NASA’s first mission to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids

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