Are We Alone?...

“For the first time, we will identify continents and oceans—and perhaps the signatures of life—on distant worlds,” says NASA in its 30-year vision for astrophysics. (Credit: Technology Review)

TECHNOLOGY REVIEW: The past 30 years has seen a revolution in astronomy and our understanding of the Universe. That’s thanks in large part to a relatively small number of orbiting observatories that have changed the way we view our cosmos.

These observatories have contributed observations from every part of the electromagnetic spectrum, from NASA’s Compton Gamma Ray Observatory at the very high energy end to HALCA, a Japanese 8-metre radio telescope at the low energy end. Then there is the Hubble Space Telescope in the visible part of the spectrum, arguably the greatest telescope in history.

It’s fair to say that these observatories have had a profound effect not just on science , but on the history of humankind.

So an interesting question is: what next? Today, we find out, at least as far as NASA is concerned, with the publication of the organisation’s roadmap for astrophysics over the next 30 years. The future space missions identified in this document will have a profound influence on the future of astronomy but also on the way imaging technology develops in general.

So what has NASA got up its sleeve? To start off with, it says its goal in astrophysics is to answer three questions: Are we alone? How did we get here? And how does our universe work?

It is a vision I will most likely not live to see the full fruition, but I will delight in seeing its "baby steps" forward. For the young that will take up this mandate: I wish you well.

Be kind to our neighbors...

Physics arXiv: Enduring Quests-Daring Visions (NASA Astrophysics in the Next Three Decades)

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