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Influential astronomy priority list favors multipurpose telescopes

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Wide Field Infrared Surveyor TelescopeA blue-ribbon National Academy of Sciences committee released its decadal survey of astronomy and astrophysics projects August 13, revealing its recommendations for 2012 to 2021. The influential report, produced by a 23-member committee and backed by nine expert panels together constituting 123 researchers, provides lawmakers and agencies such as NASA and the National Science Foundation with a guideline for which projects most deserve funding.

Topping the list of large-scale projects on the ground, unsurprisingly, was the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), a planned 8.4-meter telescope in Chile that should generate maps of the sky with unprecedented detail. The LSST, which the report estimates would cost the U.S. $421 million over a decade, should also make a significant contribution toward identifying which asteroids in Earth’s vicinity pose an impact threat.

In placing the LSST atop its priority list, the report highlighted the telescope’s technical readiness and its "compelling science case and capacity to address so many of the science goals of this survey," including exploring the fundamental physical makeup of the universe by probing the nature of dark matter and dark energy.

Among the largest space-based projects, the committee recommended prioritizing the development of a spacecraft called the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, or WFIRST (not to be confused with WISE, the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer). WFIRST, with an estimated price tag of $1.6 billion over 10 years, would augment the planned Joint Dark Energy Mission of NASA and the Department of Energy to include an exoplanet census.

Other initiatives earning committee approval:
* Expand the NASA Explorer program, a series of relatively low-cost spacecraft that has produced recent successes such as the aforementioned WISE and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe.
* Invest in a Giant Segmented Mirror Telescope, either the Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile or the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii. An investment of about $300 million would buy the U.S. a 25 percent share in one of those projects.
* Fund the New Worlds Technology Development Program, which would lay the groundwork for a space mission sometime after 2020 to study potentially habitable nearby exoplanets.

A look at the previous decadal survey, from 2001, reveals that although the field of astronomy has largely hewed to the committee’s recommendations, some highly rated projects remain unrealized while others have overcome low rankings to begin taking data. The top-ranked large project in 2001′s report, since dubbed the James Webb Space Telescope, is under construction and may launch as early as 2014. Among moderately priced initiatives from that report, the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope (then known as GLAST and ranked #2) and the Solar Dynamics Observatory (#6) have already launched, whereas others have fallen by the wayside or remain in the planning stage.

The entire report, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics, is available as a free PDF download at the National Academies Web site.

Concept for WFIRST spacecraft: JDEM Project, NASA/GSFC

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  1. 1. vallis 9:21 pm 08/13/2010

    The report also recommended LISA (the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, see lisa.nasa.gov) as one of the two large space missions (the other being WFIRST) to be implemented in the next ten years. LISA will measure gravitational waves from supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies, from the millions of compact binaries in our Galaxy, and possibly from the relic Big Bang gravitational radiation.

    Link to this
  2. 2. jtdwyer 4:04 am 08/14/2010

    That’s all well and good, but IMO the dark Quixotic quests for dark matter, dark energy and now dark flow all arise from misinterpretations of observational evidence:

    - The requirement identified as dark matter arose from the thought that the enormous disperse mass configuration of spiral galaxies should produce gravitational effects identical to the extremely centralized mass configuration of the Solar system. It simply does not.

    - The requirement identified as dark energy arose from the derivation of anomalous distances for more distant type Ia supernovae, simply not realizing that their ancient light emissions reflect the much greater expansion rate of of the earlier universe, unlike nearer galaxies whose redshift/distance is consistent with Hubble’s law, which reflects more recent rates of expansion.

    - The recently described dark flow may represent the origin point of universal expansion. Radial expansion from a singularity can produce the apparent omnidirectional expansion of spacetime as seen from from any specific observation point.

    Link to this
  3. 3. jtdwyer 4:12 am 08/14/2010

    By the way, based on this interpretation the expansion of the universe is decelerating as it disperses, consistent with the most fundamental laws of physics.

    Link to this
  4. 4. ColleenHarper 12:28 pm 08/14/2010

    @jtdwyer
    Can you point us to peer-reviewed literature to support your claims?

    Link to this
  5. 5. jtdwyer 2:10 pm 08/14/2010

    ColleenHarper – As I stated, these are the opinions of a reader. Readers are allowed to express their opinions in comments without qualifications. These are not properly claims but the assertions of a retired information systems analyst. I will argue the points with anyone if necessary, but as you can guess I have no professional affiliation in the field and my resources are limited.
    Do you dispute some specific assertion I’ve made here?

    On the first point I can refer you to an unpublished essay, "Mass Distribution Characteristics Invalidate the Galaxy Rotation Problem", posted at:
    http://sciencewithoutfiction.com/uploads/Mass_Distribution-_Galaxy_Rotation_Problem.pdf

    I can also refer you to a series of papers regarding mathematical models of spiral galaxy gravitational effects, some by a retired aeronautical engineer, that predate the independent development of my own ideas:

    "Errors in equations for galaxy rotation speeds"
    http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0309823

    "Galactic mass distribution without dark matter or modified Newtonian mechanics"
    http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0309762

    "Newtonian mechanics & gravity fully model disk galaxy rotation curves without dark matter"
    http://arxiv.org/abs/0806.1131

    Link to this
  6. 6. jtdwyer 10:49 pm 08/15/2010

    ColleenHarper – Besides, shouldn’t the more extraordinary claims, requiring the existence of enormous amounts of imaginary mass/energy to avoid invalidating fundamental laws of physics, be required to provide extraordinary proof prior to general scientific acceptance?

    I’m simply suggesting that mere mortal humans have made errors interpreting their observational data and that the most fundamental laws of physics are preserved without imaginary elements – is this a crime against science?

    Link to this
  7. 7. jack.123 6:53 pm 08/16/2010

    All current science was once just theory,but through experimenting and testing what was imaginary is now known.

    Link to this
  8. 8. Dov Henis 11:13 am 08/18/2010

    Rethink Astronomy

    Galactic clusters formed by dispersion, not by conglomeration. The proof of this is their behaviour as Newtonian bodies.

    These bodies formed at the start of inflation, when all energy was still in mass format, and the inflation was the start of reconverting the mass into energy.

    Rethink
    - A Basic Physics Tenet
    - The Universe In Which We Live

    A. Neutrino quick-change artist caught in the act
    A transformation from one flavor to another confirms the elusive elementary particles have mass and suggests a need for new physics.
    http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/59825/title/Neutrino_quick-change_artist_caught_in_the_act

    B. Adopt

    - Each and every particle has mass.
    - Dark energy and matter YOK.
    - Higgs field/particle YOK.
    - Do not be afraid of embarrassingly obvious answers. Adopt space-distance in lieu of space-time.

    C. And Rethink The Universe

    By the presently available data our universe is a dual-cycle array.

    One cycle, the present, started from singularity, with all cosmic energy in mass format, and it has been proceeding to reconvert all the mass resolved at the big bang back to energy, by expanding the cosmos, by accelerating away the galaxy clusters.

    The other cycle, the cycle that led to singularity, will re-start when the expanding cosmos consumes most or all mass that fuels the expansion. Gravity will then initiate reconversion of all the energy back to mass, to singularity, again.

    Dov Henis
    (Comments From The 22nd Century)
    Cosmic Evolution Simplified
    http://www.the-scientist.com/community/posts/list/240/122.page#4427
    Gravity Is The Monotheism Of The Cosmos
    http://www.the-scientist.com/community/posts/list/260/122.page#4887
    EOTOE.Embarrassingly obvious expanding horizons beyond Darwin And Einstein.
    http://www.molecularfossils.com/2010/05/formal-test-of-theory-of-universal.html

    Link to this
  9. 9. jack.123 7:58 pm 08/22/2010

    The problem with looking at things from billions of years ago is that we have no idea whats going on on right now,we only know what happened then.The only thing we can trust is what is local,the farther things are away the less we can trust whats going on there now.

    Link to this
  10. 10. Sylwester Kornowski 4:56 am 08/30/2010

    As the years go by the probability of finding the Higgs boson(s) and the -inos and s-particles postulated within the supersymmetry is lower and lower. My theory shows that soon we will have to change our vision of nature. The fourth phase transition of the Newtonian spacetime (it is gas composed of the structureless tachyons) leads to the object before the big bang suited to life. Evolution of this object shows that today the radius of the sphere filled with the baryonic matter is about 13,500 million light years it is consistent with the Cosmological Standard Model (the CSM). The evolution shows also that the speed of expanding of the sphere filled with the baryonic matter is today (we cannot measure this speed) not equal to the speed of light (as it is assumed in the CSM). This speed is 0.6415 of the speed of light it means that the age of the Universe is about 21,000 million light years. Today, for some most distant cosmic objects we observe very high redshift the evolution of the object before big bang suited to life shows that it is due to the protuberances appearing in the Einstein spacetime just at the beginning of the big bang. The ground state of the Einstein spacetime is the field composed of the non-rotating binary systems of neutrinos it is very difficult to detect such spacetime its pressure is about 10^44 Pa so it is smooth. The dark energy is the thickened Einstein spacetime. Since the formula applied to calculate the real redshift is incorrect then the acceleration of the expansion of the Universe is an illusion. See the new cosmology on my website.

    Link to this
  11. 11. Sylwester Kornowski 5:00 am 08/30/2010

    As the years go by the probability of finding the Higgs boson(s) and the -inos and s-particles postulated within the supersymmetry is lower and lower. My theory shows that soon we will have to change our vision of nature. The fourth phase transition of the Newtonian spacetime (it is gas composed of the structureless tachyons) leads to the object before the big bang suited to life. Evolution of this object shows that today the radius of the sphere filled with the baryonic matter is about 13,500 million light years – it is consistent with the Cosmological Standard Model (the CSM). The evolution shows also that the speed of expanding of the sphere filled with the baryonic matter is today (we cannot measure this speed) not equal to the speed of light (as it is assumed in the CSM). This speed is 0.6415 of the speed of light – it means that the age of the Universe is about 21,000 million light years. Today, for some most distant cosmic objects we observe very high redshift – the evolution of the object before big bang suited to life shows that it is due to the protuberances appearing in the Einstein spacetime just at the beginning of the big bang. The ground state of the Einstein spacetime is the field composed of the non-rotating binary systems of neutrinos – it is very difficult to detect such spacetime – its pressure is about 10^44 Pa so it is smooth. The dark energy is the thickened Einstein spacetime. Since the formula applied to calculate the real redshift is incorrect then the acceleration of the expansion of the Universe is an illusion. See the new cosmology on my website.

    Link to this

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