Astronomers will use spectroscopy to examine how light and matter interact. They will then begin to study the atmospheres large, hot planets in search of evidence of biosignatures or signs of life.
The report also identifies the second priority: understanding the origins of the universe's earliest moments by studying the nature of white dwarfs and black holes. Research in this area, such as the launch of Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (a space probe that detects and measures gravitational waves), could lead to new discoveries and sharpening our understanding of astronomical measurements.
The third priority is to study the origins and evolutions of galaxies, and how they are connected. Researchers want to use spectroscopy in order to study the many structures found around galaxies.
New way to plan missions
According to the report, NASA should also create a program that will change how projects are planned and executed.
Gonzlez says that instead of recommending and approuving long-term missions, we recommend that NASA create a program we call the Great Observatory Mission and Technology Maturation Program, which designs and develops technology before it is approved.
This program would create technologies many years before they were needed for space missions and would provide early-stage reviews and checks. This program will reduce the time it takes to launch a mission.
The report suggests that NASA could use a new approach to increase the number large-scale NASA projects it can work on simultaneously, given the time and money required to create a mission idea. Gonzlez says that it doesn't matter if they fly. It's all about having the right support and resources as soon as possible.
Astro2020's first mission will be a space-based telescope. It will use high contrast imaging to collect new data about exoplanets. It will be significantly larger than the Hubble Space Telescope and can observe planets fainter than their stars by at least 10 million. This will fundamentally alter the way that astronomers see the known universe.
Today, the cost of the project is estimated at $11 billion. If NASA approves, a launch may not be scheduled until 2040s.
The committee's top recommendation for ground-based observatories is to invest in the US Extremely Large Telescope Program. It currently consists of three components: the Giant Magellan Telescope (Chile), the Thirty Meter Telescope (Hawaii) and the National Science Foundations National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (based in Arizona).
Astro2020 recommends that both the Karl Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) and the Very Long Baseline Array (NGVA) be replaced by Next-Generation Very Large Arrays, a more sensitive radio observatory to be built by the end the decade.
According to the report, each project must succeed if the United States is to remain a leader in ground-based Astronomy.
Gonzlez hopes that this year's report will bring new discoveries to the scientific community. She says that this community includes more than just astronomers. It's the astronomers as well as the people who benefit from astronomy.