Priorities in Astronomy 2010-2020

The USA and the EU have defined their priorities in Astronomy over the next decade. The priorities refer to a survey of astronomers in the respective territories to get an idea of what is presently considered the biggest questions in the field. The priorities are then used to rank prospective big projects, so that should any of them receive funding, the ‘right’ one is funded first. ESA handles the EU massive facilities and in the USA, the National Science Foundation looks after ground based facilities with NASA dealing with space based ones. It is likely, in the current financial environment, that each agency will at most get one massive project squeezed through (medium and small projects are dealt with on shorter time periods as the community as a whole doesn’t need to deal with such a large financial commitment as it does with these larger things).

ESA’s 51 page Fundamental Physics Roadmap (download here) defines the following priorities for its missions:

  • Tests of fundamental laws and principles;
  • Detection and study of gravitational waves;
  • Quantum mechanics in a clean environment;
  • Cold atom physics, new frequency standards and quantum technologies;
  • The fundamental physics of dark energy and dark matter;
  • Space-based efforts in astroparticle physics.

Meanwhile the USA’s Decadal Survey (downloadable here) suggests its priorities are:

  • Searching for the first stars, galaxies and black holes
  • Seeking nearby habitable planets
  • Advancing understanding of the fundamental physics of the universe

An archived webcast of the committee explaining itself will be viewable here after a day or so.

Hopefully, this will resolve one or two sleepless nights in the world of astronomy, either through sliding the professors onto a bed of soft roses or, more likely, a thorny bush, having drowned their sorrows…

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