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New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics
routinely available. A panoply of detectors has provided astronomers with microwave, infrared, ultraviolet, X-ray, gamma-ray, cosmic-ray, neutrino, and gravitational radiation eyes—allowing the universe to be observed in a rich variety of ways. Many of these new windows on the universe were made possible by the ability to place increasingly sophisticated observatories in space—from the pioneering COBE, IRAS, Copernicus, UHURU, SAS-3, and Compton-GRO to WMAP, Spitzer, Hubble, Chandra, Fermi, and Swift today. Over this same period, computing power has increased by 10 orders of magnitude in both processing speed and storage, racing through the petascale, and the exponential growth of digital bandwidth has revolutionized communications and the way science is done. Together, these techniques have provided new views that both solve old puzzles and uncover new surprises.
The sociology of astronomy has also changed. The field is more collaborative, more international, and more interdisciplinary. The style of carrying out research is different. Multi-wavelength approaches are necessary for many important problems. Observational data often come via e-mail or the Web, from space- and ground-based telescopes alike. The secondary use of data from archives, especially surveys, has grown in importance and in some cases even dominates the impact of a facility. In addition, breakthroughs are still made with great, imaginative leaps from our youngest scientific minds.
Because of the strong and important connections of astronomy to other disciplines, federal funding now involves five divisions at NSF—Astronomy (AST), Physics (PHY), Office of Polar Programs (OPP), Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences (AGS), and the Office of Cyberinfrastructure (OCI)—as well as the Astrophysics, Heliophysics, and Planetary Science Divisions at NASA, the Office of High Energy Physics (OHEP) and the Office of Nuclear Physics (ONP) at the Department of Energy, and the Smithsonian Institution. At the same time that federal support has grown and diversified, private funding of large ground-based observatories has increased as well.
Optimizing the federal investment in astronomy must take account of the changing scientific, sociological, and funding landscape. This presents new challenges—from data acquisition and access to interagency and international coordination. This chapter addresses the interfaces between different partners and makes recommendations on how to optimize the federal investment in astronomy at this time of revolutionary discovery about our place in the universe.