(4) the technologies from high-energy physics that are being used very successfully in the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.

DOE has been supporting specific technology development activities for JDEM and LSST, as well as more general technology development for TeV experiments and cosmic microwave background polarization experiments. Continuation of these activities is of great importance to the committee’s recommended program.

LABORATORY ASTROPHYSICS

The Scope and Needs of Laboratory Astrophysics

Laboratory astrophysics plays an important role in ensuring the success of current and future missions and observatories, as highlighted in four of the five Science Frontiers Panel reports. The field of laboratory astrophysics comprises experimental and theoretical studies of the underlying physics that produces observed astrophysical processes. Astronomy is primarily an observational science, detecting light generated by atomic, molecular, and solid state processes, many of which can be studied in the laboratory (see Figure 5.9). Our understanding of the universe also relies on knowledge of the evolution of matter (nuclear and particle physics) and of the dynamical processes shaping it (plasma physics), substantial parts of which can be studied in the laboratory.25 As telescope capabilities expand in wavelength coverage and precision, laboratory astrophysics plays an increasingly important role in the interpretation of data. At the same time, support for laboratory astrophysics has eroded, and a more robust system of funding to support personnel, equipment, and databases is needed to ensure efficient use and interpretation of hard-won astronomical data.

Traditionally research in astronomy has required atomic and molecular transition data for use in understanding spectra at wavelengths ranging from radio through X-ray wavelengths and for nuclear interaction cross sections. These topics were also at the forefront of research in their respective areas of physics, with the generation of such data heavily supported by NSF-PHY and DOE. There have always been some efforts focused entirely on astrophysics, but the bulk of the data came “for free” from the physics community and especially the national laboratories. The frontiers of physics have evolved, particularly in the field of atomic, molecular, and optical science, and little work of this type is now done

25

Specifically, laboratory astrophysics studies processes such as atomic and molecular transitions to obtain wavelengths, oscillator strengths, branching ratios, and collision cross sections; nuclear reactions to obtain important cross sections for nucleosynthesis and cosmic-ray spallation; plasma dynamics, transport, and dissipation processes to understand how gases respond to magnetic fields; and chemical reactions in the gas phase and on the surface of dust grains.



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