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New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics
recent report8 of the Particle Astrophysics Scientific Assessment Group (PASAG) to the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel (HEPAP), which advises DOE and NSF, defined priorities for high-energy physics funding of astrophysics projects. Three broad criteria were laid out: (1) importance of the science and discovery potential consistent with the fundamental physics mission of OHEP; (2) necessity of OHEP expertise and/or technology to enable important projects and to make unique, high-impact contributions (e.g., silicon detectors and electronics on the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, or data acquisition and processing on the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, or CMB research); and (3) programmatic issues of balance and the international context. PASAG recommended that these criteria be used, in descending order of importance, to prioritize the large number of opportunities in astrophysical research to be funded.
NSF Physics Division and Office of Polar Programs. NSF-PHY funds investigator-driven research across all areas of physics, including nuclear, particle, atomic, biological, gravitational, plasma, and theoretical physics. Nuclear and particle astrophysics science falls within the NSF-PHY portfolio, and there is a specific program for it. NSF-OPP is the steward for U.S. science in Antarctica, and it funds (or co-funds) a variety of astrophysics projects at the South Pole (e.g., CMB experiments, the IceCube neutrino detector, and the 10-meter South Pole Telescope). Through the MREFC process, NSF-PHY has made a large investment in the construction and operation of the LIGO facility, and, in this decade, the Advanced LIGO detectors.
NSF Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences Division. NSF-AGS (formerly NSF-ATM) is part of the Geosciences (GEO) Directorate and provides the bulk of the grant funding for solar scientists. Additionally, for solar astronomy NSF-AGS supports the High Altitude Observatory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. NSF-AGS is concerned mostly with the effects of the Sun on our terrestrial environment, whereas NSF-AST, which supports solar astronomy through operation of NSO, views the Sun as a star that can be studied in great detail due to its unusual proximity.
Currently there are a number of areas of astrophysical research where the interests of more than one of these agencies converge. The synergies and complementarity between the agency capabilities are important. As examples, instruments developed on NSF-funded ground- and balloon-based instruments have been flown by NASA in space (on WMAP and now on Planck). NASA’s long-duration balloon program depends on the support of NSF’s McMurdo station in Antarctica,