Major Space-based:

1. Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF)

Moderate Space-based:

1. Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA)

 

2. Search for Other Planetary Systems from Earth Orbit

Small Space-based:

1. Orbiting Planetary Telescope/Planetenteleskop (OPT/PTEL)

Major Ground-based:

1. Infrared-Optimized 8-meter-Class Telescope

Moderate Ground-based:

1. none

Small Ground-based:

1. Arecibo Radar Upgrade

 

2. Astrometric Facility for Planet Detection

These facilities, which will complement and extend those already available to the United States astronomical research community, will ensure U.S. leadership in astronomy into the next millennium and will enable planetary astronomy to continue as a major component of our effort to understand the universe and its origin and evolution.

STATE OF THE PROFESSION

Planetary astronomy has contributed greatly to our current understanding of the solar system. Today, both astronomical and spacecraft studies, together with laboratory research on meteorites and lunar and martian samples, constitute an essential element of our quest to understand the solar system.

During the first half of the 20th century, planetary astronomy in the United States declined to the level of a minor branch of astronomical research, but a strong resurgence in this field began in the early 1960's as NASA initiated its program of lunar and planetary exploration by spacecraft. Not only did the need exist to learn as much as possible about the potential targets of spacecraft missions, but NASA's exploration goals also rekindled scientific interest in the planets. NASA, with its charter to explore the planets, took the lead in stimulating and supporting planetary astronomy. In the 1960's, it established a grants program, supported graduate and postdoctoral students, and funded the construction of three large telescopes for planetary work at the Universities of Arizona, Texas, and Hawaii. In the 1970's, NASA built the 3-meter national Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) in Hawaii and contributed to the development and operation of the Arecibo planetary radar facility in Puerto Rico.

These efforts together with the exciting new research opportunities stimulated a resurgence of planetary astronomy. Today planetary studies represent a significant and healthy component of astronomical research, with between 200 and 300 active planetary research astronomers in the United States. The great majority of these individuals draw at least partial support from federal grants; about 100 are Principal Investigators (P.I.s) in NASA's Planetary Astronomy Program, and about 15 more are P.I.s in the NSF planetary program. During the 1980's, an average of between 5 and 10 students were granted doctoral degrees in this field each year, which represents a significant drop from the previous decade. This Panel estimates that planetary astronomers now represent approximately 15 percent of research astronomers in the U.S. and somewhat more than 25 percent of U.S. planetary scientists (most of the remaining planetary scientists in the U.S. have backgrounds in the Earth sciences or physics.)

The primary professional society representing planetary astronomy is the Division for Planetary Science (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society, with a membership of about 700, including nearly 100 members outside the U.S. Typically annual DPS meetings attract 400 registrants, and approximately 300 individual papers are presented. The U.S. planetary science community also has its own journal, Icarus, published in affiliation with the DPS.

Throughout the 1980's, the combined annual budget for NASA and NSF grants programs for planetary astronomy averaged about $7 million (not including observatory operations). Currently, approximately half of these research funds are expended for studies of primitive bodies such as comets and asteroids. The outer planets and their satellites account for another 25 percent, with the balance devoted to studies of the inner solar system, instrument development, and the search for other planetary systems.

Approximately half of the U.S. planetary astronomers are optical/infrared observers. We estimate that these observers are granted about 600 nights (6,000 hours) per year on the 15 or so U.S. telescopes with apertures of 2 m or larger. This includes 50 percent of the time on NASA's 3-meter IRTF, more than 20 percent each on the University of Hawaii's 2.2-meter and the University of Texas' 2.7-meter and 2.1-meter telescopes, and less than 5 percent on each of the other telescopes in this class. During the 1980's, less than 3 percent of the time on the major telescopes of the National Optical Astronomy Observatories was assigned to planetary work. Other planetary



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