Astronomers search for new earths in the near future
They recently released a National Research Council report entitled “New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics” where they explain the astrophysics agenda for the ten years from 2012 to 2022. Ralph Cicerone, the head of the National Academy of Sciences, says that this report is given out after hundreds of astronomers took part in its preparation and that some topics, like supernovas and alien planets were chose for this decade, while others were postponed until the next decade. The habit of having such reports started six decades ago, and the astronomers are asking funding for new telescopes, which is coming in a bad timing taking into consideration the reality of federal agency budgets. The budgets approved for the past surveys have guided NASA and National Science Foundation what was the amount of money they should spend on astronomy.
Among the last decade’s results were finding more than 400 planets orbiting nearby stars, proving that at the center of most galaxies lie huge black holes and determining the age of the universe, which is about 13.7 billion years old. This decade’s report sets as a primary goal finding out how the first stars formed, finding the closest planets beyond the solar system whose habitat resembles the Earth’s and studying the “dark energy”, which is described as the force which is accelerating expansion of galaxies apart from one another throughout cosmos. Catherine Pilachowski, an astronomer from the Indiana University in Bloomington says that the next decade can be called a golden age, since the astronomers building the 10 years plan have thoroughly motivated the budget requests and have thought very hard on how they were going to build the projects.
The most important points on they list are the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST ), the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) and the New Worlds project. WFIRST is a space telescope which will be launched in space in 2020 and is supposed to monitor exploding stars and gravity anomalies of the galaxies for discovering the dark energy. It is also aimed at discovering habitable planets orbiting around stars in the center of our Milky Way galaxy. It will actually be a spacecraft carrying a huge 10 feet wide telescope mirror through the orbital path found at the intersection of the gravitational pull of the Earth and sun, and will cost about 1.6 billion dollars. The LSST will be a 465 million dollars telescope placed in Chile, and by 2018 it is supposed to monitor the asteroids in the proximity of the Earth and the small planets situated after Neptune in our own solar system. The telescope will actually provide a “photo” of the entire night sky once every three days. The New Worlds consists in a 4 million per year study aimed at designing telescopes which will be able to see the habitable planets spotted by WFIRST and by the Kepler space telescope which is already running.
Kirk Borne, an astronomer from George Mason University in Fairfax, George Mason University in Fairfax, Vancouver, says that the information gathered with the help of the new telescopes will be enough to fill 1 million DVDs and will be made available to the public by special sky watching applications hosted by Google and the Microsoft Corporation. This decade’s survey tried to follow the guidelines of the federal agencies regarding a conservative budget, but they also produced a more optimistic alternative, in the case when extra money should be given to them if the Obama administration decides to double the National Science Foundation budget.11