NASA missions like AXAF, SIRTF, and SOFIA depends in part on improved knowledge of the physical and chemical properties of atoms, molecules, and dust grains that can be obtained only with a vigorous program of laboratory measurement. Laboratory astrophysics provides an essential key for the success of the NASA missions planned for the 1990s.


The technology developed today is used in the science of tomorrow. The ground- and space-based technology programs include new methods for improving the performance of detectors, developing new types of telescopes, and making astronomical data widely available.

Ground-based Technology

The largest and most efficient detectors allow optimum use of the nation's investment in telescopes. Infrared detectors are improving rapidly with the aid of technology developed for national security applications. With continuing access to the fruits of this development, only a modest investment is required to optimize and purchase infrared detectors for astronomical applications and to improve relatively mature optical devices.

Promising new techniques are being developed to observe the solar neutrinos emitted during the key energy-producing reactions in the solar interior, including proton-proton collisions and the decay of 7Be. These techniques can reveal fundamental aspects of how the sun shines and, at the same time, provide important information about particle physics. If technology development proves successful, these experiments could produce data in the second half of the 1990s.

Novel or improved detectors must be developed to detect ultrahigh-energy gamma rays from astronomical sources and to observe exotic particles that could constitute the “dark matter” of the universe.

The ground- and space-based observatories of the 1990s will produce immense amounts of data. As discussed in Chapter 5, the archiving of these data is a high scientific priority.

Developments in three areas have particularly great potential to enhance the efficiency of radio telescopes: low-noise receivers for millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths, broad-bandwidth recording systems and data links for VLBI, and focal plane arrays.

Space-based Technology

Infrared or optical interferometers in space many kilometers in size, either in orbit or on the moon, offer ultrahigh angular resolution. As discussed in Chapter 6, a phased technology development program in this area with intermediate technical and scientific milestones, including ground-based and

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