Astronomers aim to obtain pictures of any form of life within the Milky Way
A US survey of astronomers puts the search for extraterrestrial life at the top of their to-do list for the next 10 years.
In a report released Thursday by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, astronomers stressed the need to continue looking for potentially habitable planets orbiting other stars, building on already “extraordinary progress.” The ultimate goal, he said, is to capture pictures of any Earth-like worlds that might be there.
“Life on Earth may be the result of a normal process, or it may require such unusual conditions that we are the only living beings within our own part of the Milky Way, or even in the universe. Either way the answer lies deep,” the report said. Having said.
“The coming decades will set humanity on a path to determine whether we are alone.”
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Also ranked higher: the discovery of the origin and evolution of black holes, neutron stars, galaxies, and the entire universe.
At the same time, the 614-page report stressed the need for greater diversity among the ranks of astronomy – still predominantly male – and suggested that NASA consider the diversity of a science team when it comes to research or projects. Money is spent.
The survey is conducted every 10 years and draws input mostly from US-based scientists.
The latest report recommends that NASA create a new office to oversee space observatories and overlapping missions in the coming decades. The first needs to be a telescope much larger than the Hubble Space Telescope capable of finding planets 10 billion times weaker than their stars, the report said. Once the necessary technologies are in place, this telescope could be ready to launch in the 2040s for about $11 billion, followed by other mega observatories for billions of dollars.
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But the report also stressed the need for smaller, more modest missions. It said launching one spacecraft per decade, with a cost of $1.5 billion, balances science with timeliness.
The report mentions the threat of cost escalation and delays in major projects over the years. Due to finally explode next month, the NASA-led James Webb Space Telescope – designed to scan the early universe and explore the atmospheres of other worlds – is a prime example. Yet its launch “promises to be a significant opportunity that will shape the course of astronomy and astrophysics in the coming decades,” the report said.
The report – sponsored by NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the Air Force – said the survey was conducted during a health crisis. While the pandemic has underscored the importance of the science, “the ultimate economic and social impacts of the pandemic remain unclear, adding to the uncertainty of the future scenario.”
The report urged NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy to treat harassment and discrimination “as forms of scientific misconduct,” add more diversity to its upper levels, and consider diversity when funding a project.