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Theorerical and Laboratory Astrophysics - · I. INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS The Panel on m eoretical and Laboratory Astrophysics was given the charge to assess the nature and role of theory and laboratory experiments in astrophysics, to review the impact of the Greenstein report (Astronomy and Astro- physics for the 1970's, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C., 1972) and the current resources for research, and to recommend a program for theoretical and laboratory astrophysics for the next decade. A. Theoretical Astrophysics In Section II we first discuss the nature and role of theory in astrophysics and argue that a strong program for theory is essential to maintain a unified and vigor- ous science. We next give a few specific examples of theoretical accomplishments of the 1970's to illustrate the ways in which theory contributes to the advance of astronomical knowledge and go on to present a list of scientific questions to illustrate the breadth and scope of the scientific agenda for the coming decade. We then assess the impact of the Greenstein report and the current resources for theoretical astrophysics re- search. We recognize that past theoretical successes are substantial but believe that the challenge to theorists 259
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260 posed by the present outstanding questions and by the observations of the coming decade will be greater than ever before. It is our thesis that the support of theory has been allowed to decline to a dangerously low level relative to observational programs and that it is now a matter of some urgency to redress the balance. Our recommendations for theoretical astrophysics, which we discuss in more detail below, are as follows: 1. m e National Aeronautics and Space Administration should establish a strong, broad program of investment in theoretical astrophysics research. 2. The National Astronomy Centers should acquire and maintain a theoretical scientific staff adequate to meet the demands imposed by their observational programs. 3. A concerted effort should be made to provide advanced computer technology to theoretical astro- physicists. 4. The National Science Foundation should establish a separate program director with responsibility for theo- retical astrophysics. 5. A network for close communication among theorists should be supported through summer institutes, workshops, and scientific visits. 6. The Department of Energy laboratories should main- tain a continued involvement with theoretical astrophysics research. The program recommended here constitutes a substantial increase in the support of theoretical astrophysics re- search; yet the required funding is very modest compared with the cost of new facilities for observational astron- omy. Therefore, we believe it to be one of the most effective ways of maintaining the vigor and creativity of astrophysics through the 1980's and beyond. B. Laboratory Astrophysics Laboratory astrophysics is discussed in Section III of this chapter. The Panel is greatly concerned about the support of research in the basic physics and chemistry that is needed for the interpretation of astronomical observations and for the development of quantitative theories of astrophysical phenomena. Laboratory studies of atomic, molecular, and solid-state processes occurring in astronomical objects constitute an interdisciplinary
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261 area involving physicists and chemists whose researches are directed largely toward other activities of a funda- mental or applied nature. m e studies are essential for progress in many areas of astronomy, but there exists at present no funding source from which support can be obtained in sufficient measure to direct the research toward meeting the needs of astronomy. Nuclear physics has been recognized more readily as a critical component of astrophysics, but continued atten- tion is necessary if the demands of astrophysical theories are to receive an adequate response. The impact of elementary-particle physics is a recent development with the promise of new applications to cos- mology and to the astrophysics of cataclysmic events. Solid-state physics, condensed-matter physics, plasma physics, and fluid mechanics are of growing importance to astronomy. Some of the most exciting areas of research will depend heavily on progress in understanding fundamen- tal aspects of these branches of knowledge. We anticipate still closer connections with astrophysics in the next decade, and we believe that astrophysically related plasma physics, condensed-matter physics and fluid mechanics must be assured of sustained support if we are to approach an understanding of the complex events now under observation and of the phenomena that await discovery. The recommendations of the Panel in the area of lab- oratory astrophysics, which are discussed more extensively at the end of this chapter, are as follows: 1. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration should establish as part of its mission planning the support for research in the basic physics and chemistry that is needed for the interpretation of astronomical observation from space and for the development of quantitative theories of astrophysical phenomena. 2. Because laboratory astrophysical Processes are common to a wide range of energy-related researches, the Department of Energy should continue to recognize labora- tory astrophysics as an appropriate area for funding support. 3. The National Science Foundation's (NSF) Astronomy Division should seek to augment existing research programs in basic physics to ensure that laboratory astrophysics is included as a strong component of the activities. In addition, the NSF Physics Division should continue support of its programs in laboratory astro- physics.
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