Ground-based laboratory experimental data, physics-based theoretical models, and numerical simulation play a growing role in the interpretation of astronomical observations. The scope of the study will reflect these trends. The study will review the federal research programs that support work in the field, including the astrophysics program at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the astronomy program at the National Science Foundation (NSF), and selected aspects of the physics programs at the NSF and the Department of Energy (DOE). For the purpose of this charge, “activities” include any project, telescope, facility, mission, or research program of sufficient scope to be identified separately in the final report. The selection of subject matter will be guided by the content of these programs. Only physics topics with a strong overlap with astronomy and astrophysics will be treated. Solar astronomy will be covered, but space-based solar astronomy projects will not be prioritized.
The study will assess the infrastructure of the field, including research and analysis support; the educational system; instrumentation and technology development; data distribution, analysis, and archiving; theory programs; and so on. The committee will determine whether the optimal infrastructure necessary to advance the science and to capture the value of major activities is in place.
In its assessment, the committee will also consider the importance of balance within and among the activities sponsored by the various agencies that support research in astronomy and astrophysics. It will explore the diversity of the portfolio of activities ranging from principal-investigator-led research, through small, medium-sized, and large projects. The committee will conduct a review of relevant activities of other nations and the opportunities for joint ventures and other forms of international cooperation. It will also explore prospects for combining resources—private, state, federal, and international—to build the strongest possible set of activities for U.S. astronomy and astrophysics.
The committee will address the future of U.S. astronomy and astrophysics by formulating a decadal research strategy with recommendations for initiatives in priority order within different categories (related to the size of activities and their home agencies). In addition to reviewing individual initiatives, aspects of infrastructure, and so on, the committee will take a comprehensive look at the U.S. astronomy and astrophysics program and make a judgment about how well the program addresses the range of scientific opportunities and how it might be optimized. The guiding principle in developing the decadal research strategy and the priorities will be maximizing future scientific progress.
In contrast to previous surveys of the field, in view of the number of previously recommended but unrealized projects, the prioritization process will include those