Four proposals for next-generation astronomy missions, which were developed by researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), have received NASA funding for yearlong studies. These studies, in addition to 15 more by other institutions, will contribute to the next Decadal Survey—an effort undertaken every 10 years by scientists to help establish priorities for future research directions in astronomy and astrophysics.
The CfA projects selected by NASA are:
- A study about how to create the next generation of extremely precise and large optics for X-ray astronomy, to be used on the Generation-X space telescope – principal investigator Roger Brissenden (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory)
- A census of black holes in our galaxy and distant galaxies, and of the birth of stellar black holes in the early universe using the Energetic X-ray Survey Imaging Telescope – principal investigator Jonathan Grindlay (Harvard College Observatory)
- A test of theories that predict that the universe underwent a period of faster-than-light expansion when it was less than a fraction of a second old by characterizing the distribution of distant galaxies, using the Cosmic Inflation Probe – principal investigator Gary Melnick (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory)
- An investigation into the possibility of putting an extremely large array of radio telescopes known as DALI (Dark Ages Lunar Interferometer) on the lunar surface to map clouds of hydrogen gas that formed during the infancy of our universe, even before the first stars – co-principal investigator Justin Kasper (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory).
The concept studies range in cost from approximately $300,000 to $800,000.
The studies’ results are expected in March 2009. Concepts that rank highly in the decadal survey may result in missions that would launch after the suite of missions in development such as the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in May; the Kepler mission, scheduled to launch in 2009; and the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in 2013.
Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.