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and Astrophysics Survey Committee (which produced the AANM report) and Committee on the Physics of the Universe (which produced Connecting Quarks with the Cosmos).

The committee’s response to its charge focuses on four broad topics:

  1. A summary of the context and programmatic changes that led to the initiation of this letter;

  2. An overview of the most exciting advances in astronomy and astrophysics since the AANM report was completed;

  3. An overview of some of the technological developments that are leading to the next generation of instruments and capabilities; and

  4. An assessment of the progress that has been made toward realizing the decadal vision, and potential opportunities and obstacles on the path to fulfilling that vision.

I. CONTEXT FOR THE COMMITTEE’S DELIBERATIONS

The most recent in a series of survey reports in which the community has reached consensus on an integrated list of priorities for the coming decade,4Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium (AANM) was the culmination of a 2-year process of information collection and synthesis involving the broad astronomy and astrophysics community. This process is widely recognized as the gold standard for science priority setting and, over the past 50 years, has played a significant role in enabling the tremendous successes of the nation’s astronomy and astrophysics research enterprise.

Since the AANM report was released in the spring of 2000, astronomy and astrophysics has continued to be an exciting and very rapidly evolving area of transformative research. We now know, with considerable precision, that the universe is nearly 14 billion years old and filled with a mysterious form of energy. We know that planets around other stars are fairly common objects in our galaxy, and we expect that planets like our own will be discovered one day. We know that immense black holes, millions of times as massive as our Sun, grow at the center of galaxies as those galaxies form. These and other remarkable advances in understanding the workings and content of the universe have enriched the nation and the world.

These profound discoveries have been paralleled, and in many cases enabled, by an ongoing technological revolution in astronomical instrumentation and facilities, which has provided researchers with a suite of new tools for exploring the universe that remains beyond our physical reach. Further, the continued explosion of computational power and theoretical work has enabled exploration of phenomena at the limit of human understanding.

With these advances, new opportunities for discovery have arisen. One example is the recent confirmation that the universe is not just expanding, but is doing so at an increasing rate. Evidence of dark energy was discovered as the Astronomy and Astrophysics Survey Committee was beginning its deliberations, and it was independently confirmed only in the years after the release of the AANM report. This discovery had immediate and profound implications for fundamental physics, which a broad-based coalition of astronomers and physicists are working to understand. This scientific frontier and others at the interface of physics and astronomy were discussed in Connecting Quarks with the Cosmos. To their credit, the federal agencies that support astronomy and astrophysics research have responded quickly to these new discoveries at the intersection of physics and astronomy, as described in the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s report The Physics of the Universe5 and in NASA’s Beyond Einstein roadmap.6

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The five reports are Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium, NRC, 2001; The Decade of Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics, NRC, 1991; Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 1980’s, NRC, 1982; Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 1970’s, NRC, 1972; and Ground-based Astronomy: A Ten Year Program, NRC, 1964.

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Office of Science and Technology Policy, The Physics of the Universe, OSTP, Washington, D.C., 2004.



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