Appendix A

Statement of Task

Prospects for Ground-Based Solar Research

Background Research in solar physics is a critical part of the Nation's natural science program because of the solar connection to atmospheric physics and chemistry, space environments, and astronomy. However, there is concern that solar astronomy's “infrastructure”—its ground-based facilities and associated intellectual capital—may erode to the point of limiting future scientific progress and jeopardizing the success of ongoing and anticipated satellite-based solar physics missions that depend on a complementary program of ground-based research.

Among the interrelated factors cited for the decline in U.S. ground-based solar astronomy are:

  • The problem of sustaining faculty and programs at universities and of attracting the next generation of investigators to a field that is perceived as lacking in career opportunities;

  • Ground-based capabilities are spread out over many observatories that have not been able to maintain the support necessary to upgrade aging facilities and develop new telescopes;

  • Solar physics as a discipline straddles astronomy and space physics, and as a consequence sometimes falls into a gap in broader planning strategies at many institutions.

In spite of these factors, solar astronomy is a field ripe with scientific opportunity. For example, technological advances in instrumentation and computation, and new windows into the sun (the GONG network and solar neutrino detectors) may allow the solution of such long-standing problems as the physical origins of the solar cycle. Scientists hope to develop comprehensive models of the solar magnetic field by using GONG to observe the physical conditions in the solar interior, and couple these with observations from ground- and space-based telescopes. Researchers believe that upgrading the capabilities of current ground-based solar observing facilities, which reside at the National Solar Observatory (NSO) and at several universities, servicing and extending the operation of GONG for a full solar cycle, and proceeding with development of several new high-priority instruments, are key elements in the success of these efforts. However, enthusiasm for new instruments and programs is tempered by budgetary realities. The NRC study will thus analyze strategies and priorities for future investments. The agencies and organizations most concerned about the future of ground-based solar astronomy are the NSF, the Air Force, NASA, and NOAA.

Plan The proposed study will analyze existing capabilities and projected trends in ground observational facilities and other research infrastructure elements in order to:

  • assess the scientific context in which ground-based solar research will be pursued in the coming decade, including: new research opportunities, the solar connection to programs in atmospheric physics and chemistry, space environments, astronomy, and long-term climate change; existing and planned programs and instruments worldwide, space missions, and likely technological developments;



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GROUND-BASED SOLAR RESEARCH: AN ASSESSMENT AND STRATEGY FOR THE FUTURE Appendix A Statement of Task Prospects for Ground-Based Solar Research Background Research in solar physics is a critical part of the Nation's natural science program because of the solar connection to atmospheric physics and chemistry, space environments, and astronomy. However, there is concern that solar astronomy's “infrastructure”—its ground-based facilities and associated intellectual capital—may erode to the point of limiting future scientific progress and jeopardizing the success of ongoing and anticipated satellite-based solar physics missions that depend on a complementary program of ground-based research. Among the interrelated factors cited for the decline in U.S. ground-based solar astronomy are: The problem of sustaining faculty and programs at universities and of attracting the next generation of investigators to a field that is perceived as lacking in career opportunities; Ground-based capabilities are spread out over many observatories that have not been able to maintain the support necessary to upgrade aging facilities and develop new telescopes; Solar physics as a discipline straddles astronomy and space physics, and as a consequence sometimes falls into a gap in broader planning strategies at many institutions. In spite of these factors, solar astronomy is a field ripe with scientific opportunity. For example, technological advances in instrumentation and computation, and new windows into the sun (the GONG network and solar neutrino detectors) may allow the solution of such long-standing problems as the physical origins of the solar cycle. Scientists hope to develop comprehensive models of the solar magnetic field by using GONG to observe the physical conditions in the solar interior, and couple these with observations from ground- and space-based telescopes. Researchers believe that upgrading the capabilities of current ground-based solar observing facilities, which reside at the National Solar Observatory (NSO) and at several universities, servicing and extending the operation of GONG for a full solar cycle, and proceeding with development of several new high-priority instruments, are key elements in the success of these efforts. However, enthusiasm for new instruments and programs is tempered by budgetary realities. The NRC study will thus analyze strategies and priorities for future investments. The agencies and organizations most concerned about the future of ground-based solar astronomy are the NSF, the Air Force, NASA, and NOAA. Plan The proposed study will analyze existing capabilities and projected trends in ground observational facilities and other research infrastructure elements in order to: assess the scientific context in which ground-based solar research will be pursued in the coming decade, including: new research opportunities, the solar connection to programs in atmospheric physics and chemistry, space environments, astronomy, and long-term climate change; existing and planned programs and instruments worldwide, space missions, and likely technological developments;

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GROUND-BASED SOLAR RESEARCH: AN ASSESSMENT AND STRATEGY FOR THE FUTURE assess the fiscal context in which ground-based solar research will be pursued in the coming decade and beyond, including anticipated resources from federal and nonfederal sources; advise on ground-based solar astronomy strategies and priorities in light of expectations about future budgetary and other resources; evaluate, within the context above, the posture of solar observatories (including especially the mission of the National Solar Observatory) and define their optimal role relative to solar research programs in universities, industry, and other federally-funded centers. This review will take into account both the primary missions as well as the research and educational roles of the various organizations; consider whether the current approach for the management of the NSO, as a component of NSF's National Optical Astronomy Observatories, best serves the research community; if not, to suggest and evaluate alternative arrangements that could result in a healthier field; and assess whether projected capabilities will be adequate to execute the requisite program of ground-based solar research, including the ground-based component of solar physics space missions (e.g., Yohkoh, SOHO, and later, TRACE and SXI); suborbital investigations (e.g., Flare Genesis balloon flights, SPARTAN Shuttle flights); and solar-terrestrial investigations (e.g., NASA's GGS, NSF's GEM, CEDAR), including the interagency National Space Weather Program.