A whole new vision of the universe


Astronomers are now at a point where they can test theories, settle debates, and answer age-old questions about our universe that weren’t possible even a decade ago.

Driving the news: An influential report released last week outlines ambitious plans to develop technologies over the next 10 years that will fuel new discoveries about life in the universe.

  • The far-reaching document known as the Decadal Investigation calls for the construction of a large space telescope designed to find an Earth twin surrounding another star and the creation of a program to bring other powerful telescopes into the space in the future.
  • He also proposes to strengthen America’s capabilities to detect ripples in space and time called gravitational waves, and to build new ground-based telescopes to help collect data on stars, galaxies and the structure of our universe.
  • The document also draws the line between cultivating a fair and diverse workforce and good scientific discovery. It is not enough to have the tools to do good science if the people who use them cannot shine.

Where he is : Scientists now have the ability to see the universe in wavelengths ranging from ultraviolet to infrared in incredible detail.

  • Sensitive tools are also able to detect gravitational waves emitted by the extreme collisions of black holes and neutron stars, opening a new window on how we can probe the nature of the universe.
  • “The discoveries of the last decade have really shown us how rich and complex our universe is, but it has also put us in front of the tools we need to study this richness,” said astronomer Rachel Osten, who did part of the document’s steering committee, Axios said.
  • The tools used by today’s astronomers will continue to be developed, increasing their sensitivity and ability to detect objects and phenomena not only about life in the universe, but about humanity’s place in a wider cosmological context.

The big picture: The recommendations of the report form a broad vision of what astronomy can be. The document does not ask for just a few tent missions, but a new fleet of large observatories that can answer a multitude of questions about the universe.

  • “To maximize the chances of our species being discovered, we need to have a long-term view,” astrophysicist Grant Tremblay told Axios.
  • While the report recommends that NASA build a telescope to find an Earth twin, it also reiterates that it will take more than a single telescope to understand habitable worlds.
  • The report’s authors urge NASA and other funding agencies to devote resources to building tools to determine not only whether an Earth twin exists, but also how habitable planets are born around stars.

Yes, but: The priorities set out by the document are broad and will require a concerted effort by NASA and the entire space science community to implement them.

  • Technological development is difficult and can lead to delays, despite the best-laid plans and intentions of those working on ambitious projects.
  • It also remains to be seen whether NASA will wholeheartedly adhere to the recommendations to make these ambitious plans a reality.

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