astrophysical research. They will build on the success of programs identified by previous decadal surveys and lay the foundations for astronomical research far beyond 2020 by supporting the next generation of telescopes for which the astronomical community has been planning and preparing over the past two decades.
This panel recommends new programs to optimize science opportunities across astronomy and astrophysics in ways that will support work at all scales: from the inspired individual to teams of hundreds of astronomers and billion-dollar projects. These recommendations combine to reinvigorate the U.S. system of OIR telescopes and facilities, heralding a new, expanded era of federal and nonfederal partnership for astronomical exploration.1
The Astro2010 survey occurs at a time of great challenge and great opportunity for OIR astronomy in the United States, which has led the world for the past century. In addition to the technical and intellectual challenges of OIR research, Europe, through its European Southern Observatory, is achieving parity with the United States in telescopes with apertures greater than or equal to 6 m and is poised to take a leading position with its plans for a 42-m Extremely Large Telescope project. The opportunity exists for U.S. OIR astronomy to marshal and coordinate its great resources and creativity and build on its successes and accomplishments to answer the fundamental questions posed by Astro2010.
The frontiers of astronomy and astrophysics have been advanced over the course of the 20th century, starting with the Mount Wilson 60-inch (1.5-m) telescope in 1908, by each decade’s suite of ever-more-capable OIR telescopes and instruments. Continuing into the 21st century, the science opportunities in the coming decade promise to be equally great, as the OIR community stands ready to build the next generation of facilities.
A GSMT, with a collecting area exceeding 100 times that of the Hubble Space Telescope and with a 10-times-better angular resolution, will open up discovery space in remarkable new directions, probe dense environments within the Milky Way and in nearby galaxies, and—coupled with advanced adaptive optics (AO)—will map planetary systems around nearby stars. A GSMT’s capabilities for astrometry will offer an unparalleled ability to probe the kinematics of galaxies, stars, and planets at the very highest angular resolution, offering sensitivities that are, in some
The previous decadal survey—Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium (AANM; National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2001)—advocated a system perspective toward the sum of all U.S. OIR facilities in order to encourage collaborations between federally funded and independent observatories so that federal funds would be leveraged by private investment. The system today is an emerging network of public and private ground-based observatories with telescopes in the 2- to 10-m-aperture range.