Committee to Assess Progress
Toward Achieving the Decadal
Vision in Astronomy & Astrophysics
(a.k.a. Mid-Course Review)
Co-chair, NRC Committee on Astronomy & Astrophysics
AAAC – February 12,2005
CAA (=Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics) and
parent Boards (BPA=Board on Physics and Astronomy and
SSB=Space Studies Board) asked whether science
strategy of decadal survey (AANM=Astronomy and
Astrophysics in the New Millennium) supplemented by
Q2C report (=Connecting Quarks with the Cosmos: Eleven
Science Questions for the New Century) is on course or
should be reexamined.
Discussion prompted by changes in substance
(scientific and technical advances) and context (Q2C, NASA,
NRC initiated the study.
Charge to the Committee
“An NRC committee will prepare a short report
reviewing the scientific discoveries and technical
advances in astronomy and astrophysics over the
5 years since the publication of the decadal
survey, Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New
Millennium (AANM). It will address the
implications of scientific and technical
developments as well as changes in the federal
program. It will assess progress toward realizing
the vision for the field articulated in AANM and
supplemented by Connecting Quarks with the
Meg Urry, Yale University, Craig Hogan, University of
Chair (CAA, BPA) Washington
Lars Bildsten, University John Huchra, Harvard-
of California, Santa Barbara Smithsonian Center for
(CAA) Astrophysics (Q2C)
Roger Blandford, Christopher McKee,
Stanford University (CAA, University of California,
SSB, Q2C) Berkeley (AASC, BPA)
John Carlstrom, Anneila Sargent,
University of Chicago (CAA) California Institute of
Neal Evans, II, University Technology (AASC, BPA)
of Texas Sara Seager, Carnegie
Jacqueline Hewitt, Institution of Washington
Massachusetts Institute of Charles Woodward,
Technology (SSB) University of Minnesota
Structure of Letter Report
Summary of changes (substance/context)
Overview of science advances
Overview of tech developments
Assessment of progress toward Vision
Do new discoveries (e.g., dark
energy) require new survey to
Dramatic advances since 2000:
I. Dark energy, structure of the Universe
II. Planets/disks around other stars
III. Formation and evolution of black holes
I. The Age of the Universe,
the History of Its Expansion, and
the Nature of Matter and Energy
Dark Energy and Fundamental Physics
Dark Matter and the Density of the Universe
The Dawn of the Modern Universe: The First
The First Galaxies and Early Star Formation
II. Our Place in the Cosmos: the
Formation of Stars and Planetary
Systems, and the Sun’s Effect on Earth
Planets Around Other Stars
Solar System Formation
The Physics of the Sun and Its Effect on Our
Our Galaxy’s Supermassive Black Hole and
III. The Formation and Evolution of
Black Holes and Probing Strong Gravity
and High Densities
Solving the Mystery of the X-ray Background
Supermassive Black Holes in Galaxy Nuclei
Exploring Curved Space-Time Around
Spinning Black Holes
Neutron Star Laboratories for Precision
Tests of General Relativity and Physics at
Successful implementation of AANM
requires timely and sustained
commitment to technology development.
Committee sees no technological
breakthroughs or challenges that require
further assessment or imperil AANM
– TPF-C handled in recent NRC TPF letter report.
New technologies may arise in new
Exploration Vision; if so, optimal for
input to next decadal survey.
Significant and pressing concern:
effect of ongoing programmatic
changes on young investigators.
Talented students are strongly
attracted to astronomy and
astrophysics but are hesitant in the
current uncertain climate to commit
their future careers to the field.
“The remarkable advances in
understanding in astronomy and astrophysics achieved
over the past 5 years do not require that
the NRC reexamine the AANM report or
undertake an in-depth mid-course
review of the scientific goals or recommended
priorities. On the contrary, progress in the field
validates the broad scientific program envisioned by the
survey and implemented thus far by the agencies.”
Balance and Flexibility
Balance across subdisciplines critical in
astronomy and astrophysics.
Most exciting scientific discoveries from
new instruments often not anticipated.
(Programs must be flexible enough to explore
Success of A&A decadal survey programs
over past 50 years attests to wisdom of
Formation of AAAC and interagency
teams (viz. OSTP’s The Physics of the Universe)
are significant and important for
achieving decadal vision.
Coordination works because of strong
planning process in this field - the
astronomy and astrophysics surveys provide the
strategic underpinnings for a cohesive interagency
Strategic Planning (NSF & DOE)
Strategic planning underway at NSF Astronomy
Division is essential step toward transformation necessary
for managing large AANM projects.
Senior reviews valuable for periodic assessment of
allocation of resources across disciplines.
Future planning for astronomy and astrophysics should take into
increasing involvement of the DOE’s
Office of Science and the scientists that it supports.
– DOE should continue to coordinate its program with NASA and the
NSF; its participation in the AAAC is an important step.
Strategic Planning (NASA)
NASA has an important tradition of
roadmapping and strategic planning,
carried out with help from the agency’s FACA advisory
Beyond Einstein roadmap is excellent
synthesis and implementation of AANM
and Q2C reports.
– Demonstrates how agency processes can integrate
new discoveries into the broad framework laid out
by the decadal survey.
Explorers and Probes
Implementation of Einstein probes to be carried out
in competitive environment designed to yield best
Concept of Einstein Probes builds on legacy of
successful, cost-effective Explorer line of missions.
Explorers (Probes) allow NASA to respond to
new scientific discoveries without waiting for the next
Open, competitive nature of Explorers/Probes
ensures best science is done and adds to vitality of field.
Beyond Einstein includes AANM high-priority
missions Con-X and LISA as facility-class missions called
Einstein Great Observatories.
Einstein Great Observatories will provide broad
and flexible science return across all of astrophysics,
like HST, CGRO, Chandra, and Spitzer.
Support for Beyond Einstein projects needs to
be sustained. Especially important for projects now
underway, in order to maintain continuity in expertise.
Aldridge commission’s notional science agenda for
implementing the new Exploration Vision includes the
scientific goals articulated in Beyond Einstein
NSF postdoctoral fellowships open to
theorists and real growth in individual
grants program have been positive responses to
AANM recommendations on theory.
No theory challenges have been
explicitly implemented in any AANM-
recommended initiatives now underway, potentially
inhibiting the synergy envisioned by the AANM survey
committee, which advocated the kind of broad,
visionary theory program that enhances the discovery
potential of future missions.
Hubble (in time of rapid change!)
Committee agrees with conclusions of
Lanzerotti report (Committee on the Assessment of
Options for Extending the Life of the Hubble Space
– Future promise of extended HST mission
is unquestionably exciting and of immense
– Only effective means of servicing HST is
shuttle servicing mission.
Future re Hubble
AANM priorities should form basis of
nation’s program in astronomy and astrophysics
even if HST ceases operation [before 2010].
If cost of repairing HST or developing a
fast-track HST replacement is large enough to
threaten the timely completion of a substantial fraction
of the projects recommended in the AANM report and
Q2C, then scientific community should be
involved in assessing the relative value of
HST or its replacement vis-à-vis the affected program.
NASA’s new Exploration Initiative has brought a
welcome new purpose to human spaceflight side of agency and
has provided some new opportunities for selected areas of the science
Long-term impact on astronomy and astrophysics not
entirely clear but short-term changes are already having an effect,
and there are community concerns that serious problems may
Committee very concerned that selective impacts will adversely
affect NASA’s ability to generate the kind of transformational science
that is hallmark of past decades.
maintaining the breadth of the
Committee believes that
astronomy and astrophysics enterprise at NASA is
consistent with new Exploration Vision.
The committee and the community it
represents value immensely the ongoing
dialog between the astronomy and
astrophysics community and the
As long as the necessary breadth and balance
are maintained in the current scientific program
for astronomy and astrophysics, prospects
for an unprecedented decade of
discovery are indeed bright.
AANM Key Science Questions
How did universe begin, how did it evolve
from primordial soup of elementary particles
into complex structures seen today, and what
is its destiny?
How do galaxies first arise and mature?
How are stars born and how do they live and
How do planets form and change as they
Does life exist elsewhere in the universe?
Q2C Key Science Questions
1. What is dark matter? 7. Are protons unstable?
2. What is dark energy? 8. What are the new
3. How did the universe states of matter?
9. Are there more space-
4. Was Einstein right
about gravity? time dimensions?
5. How have neutrinos 10. How were elements
shaped the universe? from Fe to Uranium
6. What are nature’s made?
particles? 11. Is new theory of light
and matter needed?
Donald C. Backer, University of California, Berkeley,
Andrea M. Ghez, University of California, Los
Jonathan E. Grindlay, Harvard University,
Natalie A. Roe, Lawrence Berkeley National
Joseph H. Taylor, Jr., Princeton University,
Alan M. Title, Lockheed Martin,
J. Craig Wheeler, University of Texas, and
Edward L. Wright, University of California, Los