Infrared astronomy is on the threshold of a revolution. The decade of the 1990's presents an unparalleled opportunity to address fundamental astrophysics issues through observations at infrared wavelengths (1 µm to 1000 µm) made possible by enormous technological and scientific advances during the last decade. The formation of galaxies, stars and planets, the origin of quasars, and the nature of active galactic nuclei are among the key scientific issues to be addressed by these observations.
The major elements of the recommended program are:
THE SPACE INFRARED TELESCOPE FACILITY (SIRTF)
SIRTF is the single most important new astronomy project for the 1990's. A cryogenically cooled space observatory of 5 years lifetime, SIRTF will complete NASA's Great Observatories program by enabling observations across the 3 µm to 700 µm region with a sensitivity gain of 2 to 4 orders of magnitude over all current capabilities. SIRTF will redefine the state-of-the-art in infrared exploration of the universe.
THE STRATOSPHERIC OBSERVATORY FOR INFRARED ASTRONOMY (SOFIA) & THE IR OPTIMIZED 8-M TELESCOPE (IRO)
SOFIA, a 2.5-m telescope system in a modified Boeing 747 aircraft, utilizes the airborne environment to observe free from most of the absorption by telluric water vapor.
IRO, a national 8-m telescope fully optimized for infrared observations, exploits the remarkably dry and stable atmospheric conditions of the summit of Mauna Kea.
Together, SOFIA and IRO span the IR at high angular resolution with more than an order of magnitude increase in sensitivity compared to current ambient temperature telescopes. SOFIA and IRO will complement SIRTF by their ability to achieve higher spectral and spatial resolution, by their long lifetime, and by their ability to support evolving instrumentation.
Other highlights of this report include:
A DETECTOR AND INSTRUMENTATION PROGRAM
A vigorous, broadly based IR array detector development, evaluation and implementation program to exploit the revolution in IR array technology and recent advances in adaptive optics.
THE SUBMILLIMETER MISSION (SMMM)
An Explorer-class space experiment to obtain an unbiased spectral line survey of the rich 100 µm to 700 µm region.
THE 2 µM ALL SKY SURVEY (2MASS)
An all-sky three-color survey in the 1 µm to 2.5 µm region, reaching 50,000 times fainter than the existing two micron sky survey. Key issues in the structure of the local universe and the large scale structure of the Galaxy will be addressed.
A SOUND INFRASTRUCTURE
A strong base of support for laboratory and theoretical astrophysics, for the development of well trained instrumentalists through airborne and ground-based observational programs and for archival data analysis programs.
TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS
An active technology program directed towards the further exploitation of the space environment for far-IR/submm astronomy, and a ground-based imaging interferometry program leading to an optical/infrared VLA in the next decade.