Friday, February 22 2013 @ 02:45 PM CST
Contributed by: dgrosvold
|Clusters of galaxies collide in this composite image of “Pandora's Cluster.” Data (in red) from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory show gas with temperatures of millions of degrees. Blue maps the total mass concentration (mostly dark matter) based on data from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT), and the Japanese Subaru telescope. Optical data from HST and VLT also show the constituent galaxies of the clusters. Such images begin to reveal the relationship between concentration of dark matter and the overall structure of the universe.
Click image for larger view
The recommended activities are meant to advance three science objectives:
Deepening understanding of how the first stars, galaxies, and black holes formed, Locating the closest habitable Earth-like planets beyond the solar system for detailed study, and Using astronomical measurements to unravel the mysteries of gravity and probe fundamental physics.
For the 2012-2021 period, the highest-priority large mission recommended is the Wide-field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). It would orbit the second Lagrange point and perform wide-field imaging and slitless spectroscopic surveys of the near-infrared sky for the community. It would settle essential questions in both exoplanet and dark energy research and would advance topics ranging from galaxy evolution to the study of objects within the galaxy and within the solar system.
Naturally, NASAís strategic response to the recommendations in the decadal survey must take budget constraints and uncertainties into account.
The goal is to begin building this mission in 2017, after the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. But this timeframe is not assured. Alternatively, a different, less ambitious mission that also address the Decadal Survey science objectives for WFIRST would remain a high priority.
The Astrophysics Division is also doing studies of moderate-sized missions, including: gravitational wave mission concepts that would advance some or all of the science objectives of the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), but at lower cost; X-ray mission concepts to advance the science objectives of the International X-ray Observatory (IXO), but at lower cost; and mission concept studies of probe-class missions to advance the science of a planet characterization and imaging mission.
For a summary of NASAís plans for seeking answers to the big astrophysics questions and to read the complete Astrophysics Implementation Plan (dated December 2012), see http://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/. For kids, find lots of astrophysics fun facts and games on The Space Place, http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/menu/space/.
This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.