understanding of the Sun and of the climates of other planets help illuminate critical issues and inform thinking about climate change here on Earth. The impact of recent discoveries and the many new opportunities thus created have led to great interest in astronomy.

The urgency for federal investment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and research was highlighted in the influential 2007 National Academies report Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future.6

CONCLUSION: Astronomical research continues to offer significant benefits to the nation beyond astronomical discoveries. These benefits include its role in capturing the public’s attention and thereby promoting general science literacy and proficiency, its service as a gateway to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers, and a number of important and often unexpected technological spin-offs. The field of astronomy and astrophysics deserves inclusion in initiatives to enhance basic research, such as the America COMPETES Act.

As further service to the nation, important roles in government can be played by suitably skilled scientists. Not only are they able to inform the decision-making process, but they also can develop a rare appreciation of the challenges of the political process, which they are well-placed to communicate to other scientists.

RECOMMENDATION: The astronomical community should encourage and support astronomers’ commitment to serve in science service/policy positions, on a rotator, fellowship, or permanent basis, at the relevant funding agencies—NSF, NASA, DOE—in Congress, at the Office of Management and Budget, or at the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Career Planning

A consequence of the current excitement in the field of astronomy is that it attracts many highly capable students who contribute substantially to the research enterprise. Not all of these will take up long-term positions in astronomy, and so it is fortunate that training in astronomical research appears to be well matched in practice to much broader career opportunities. However, the situation also appears to be changing rapidly, and there is a need for students and postdoctoral scholars to be responsibly informed about their employment options on the basis of reliable


National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007.

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