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Anticipation High for New Decadal Astronomy Report
By Denise Chow
SPACE.com Staff Writer
posted: 13 August 2010
07:37 am ET

A new report to be released Friday expected to lay out the top priorities in space science for the next decade is generating much buzz within the astronomical community.

The National Research Council report from the National Research Council, called New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics, is a decadal survey of the field of space- and ground-based astronomy and astrophysics.  The report will be released at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) today.

The report is aimed at identifying scientific goals for astronomy within the next 10 years and beyond, said study director Michael Moloney, who also leads the Space Studies Board and the Aeronautical and Space Engineering Board at the National Research Council. The council is a private nonprofit institution that provides science, technology and health policy advice under a congressional charter.

"In this decadal process, the community engages in an assessment of the scientific promise for the decade to come, and based on that analysis, does a prioritization of future facilities that should be built in order to pursue those goals," Moloney told SPACE.com.

A committee of 23 people oversaw more than 120 experts on nine different panels that wrote the reports which contributed to the final survey. The report is intended to give advice to the various federal agencies that fund astronomy and astrophysics projects.

"The federal government, including Congress, is a major audience of the report, since the majority of the recommendations would be targeted at them," Moloney said. "So, in this case, that would be NASA and the National Science Foundation. But the report also has an audience in the research community, and to some extent, the general public."

While there have been only six such decadal surveys of the field released to date, federal agencies have paid heed to the committee's recommendations in the past, Moloney said. He believes this is because the process incorporates the input of a substantial population within the astronomical community.

"The fact that it does engage such a large proportion of the community is one of the reasons why federal agencies pay such particular attention," Moloney said.

The anticipation surrounding the release has also been resonating throughout the scientific community.

"All astronomers in the U.S. are excited about Friday's release of the report," Laird Close, a University of Arizona professor in the Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory, told SPACE.com. "I hope the report strongly supports innovation and instrument developing – and training of the next generation of instrument builders – in the U.S. community."

As for his expectations for the report's recommendations, Close will have his eye on several developments.

"Of course, everyone has a project that is near and dear to their heart," he said. "For me I'd like to see both the Giant Magellan and Thirty Meter telescopes get significant support in the report. On the space side, I'd like to see NASA's Terrestrial Planet Finder coronagraph start to move forward in a serious way."

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