BOX 7.2

Implementing a New Worlds Science Plan

  • Locate the prime targets for hosting habitable, terrestrial planets among our closest stellar neighbors.

  • Carry out a focused program of computation and theory to understand the architectures of planets and disks.

  • Use the Kepler transit survey to measure the probability that a solar-type star has a massive terrestrial companion, and that a red star harbors an Earth-like planet.

  • Perform a microlensing survey from space using the recommended WFIRST to characterize in detail the statistical properties of habitable terrestrial planets.

  • Improve radial velocity measurements on existing ground-based telescopes to discover planets within a few times the mass of Earth as potential targets for future space-based direct-detection missions.

  • Use ground-based telescopes, including ALMA, AO-equipped optical-infrared telescopes such as GSMT, and mid-infrared interferometry, or space-based Explorers, to characterize the dust environment around stars like the Sun, so as to gauge the ability of future missions to directly detect Earth-size planets in orbits like that of our own Earth.

  • Use JWST to characterize the atmospheric or surface composition of planets within a few times the size of Earth, orbiting the coolest red stars. These are the planets that might be discovered by ground- and possibly space-based surveys.

  • Follow up nearby systems discovered by Kepler.

  • Assess habitability by using IXO to characterize the frequency and intensity of flares on host stars.

  • Use ALMA and CCAT to seek biogenic molecules thought to be precursors to life.

  • Develop the technology for an ambitious space mission to study nearby Earth-like planets.

NOTE: ALMA, Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array; CCAT, formerly the Cornell-Caltech Atacama Telescope; IXO, International X-ray Observatory; JWST, James Webb Space Telescope; Kepler; and WFIRST, Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope.

of gravity encompassed by Einstein’s theory of general relativity. However, these tests have been restricted to the situations where gravity is weak, and the strong field expression of the theory still remains to be tested. The discovery of dark energy and dark matter and the amassed evidence that is at least consistent with the predictions of the theory of inflation present two more examples where carefully controlled astronomical measurements contribute to current understanding of fundamental physics. Here the committee highlights these three topics, mindful of a range of other such opportunities, mentioned below.

The standard model of cosmology developed in the 1980s and 1990s has been amply confirmed over the past decade by observations of the cosmic microwave

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