On Nov. 4, the National Academy of Sciences released its Astro2020 decadal survey, "Pathways to Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 2020s," which outlines a strategy and vision for a decade of transformative science at the frontiers of astronomy and astrophysics. Several University of Chicago projects were endorsed by the report and will lead the field for the next decade and beyond.
"The decadal survey identifies the most compelling scientific goals for our field, and we are excited that the 2020 report affirms the vision and focus of scientists at the University of Chicago," said Angela V. Olinto, dean of the Physical Sciences Division and Albert A. Michelson Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics.
The report identifies three priority areas for investment over the next decade: identifying and characterizing earth-like worlds in other planetary systems; closer study of the most energetic processes in the universe—such as black hole collisions, stellar explosions, and more—to address questions about dark matter, dark energy, and cosmological inflation; and understanding the origins and evolution of galaxies.
Among the projects referenced in the report are several connected to the University of Chicago, including the Giant Magellan Telescope, CMB-S4, LUVOIR, and HabEx.
The University of Chicago is a founding member of the Giant Magellan Telescope, a large, ground-based facility that will be located at Las Campanas in Chile's Atacama Desert. When operational in the late 2020s, it will produce images that are 10 times sharper than those from the Hubble Space Telescope in the infrared region of the spectrum. Astronomers will use these images to study planets around other stars and to look back to the time when the first galaxies formed.
"The Giant Magellan Telescope will immediately bring into focus what is happening in the distant universe so that we can better understand how and when the earliest galaxies formed and evolved," said Wendy Freedman, the John and Marion Sullivan University Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics and founding leader of the telescope. “It literally will allow us to study the first starlight of the universe.”