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AAS Informational Email 2010-5

Decadal Survey Report and AAS Decadal Survey Town Halls

Debbie Elmegreen, AAS President
John Huchra, AAS Past-President and CAPP Chair
Kevin Marvel, AAS Executive Officer

The Astro2010 Survey Committee report, "New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics," was released this morning by the National Academies in Washington, DC. The report recommends priorities for the most important scientific and technical activities of the next 10 years in astronomy and astrophysics. These include a balance of small, medium, and large initiatives, with ground- and space-based telescopes across the electromagnetic spectrum. The report also addresses important demographic and career issues. It is available in pre-publication form on the National Academies Press website (; the fully edited final publication version will emerge later this year.

The AAS Executive Committee, with support from the AAS Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy, adopted the following resolution:

"The American Astronomical Society enthusiastically endorses the Astro2010 Decadal Survey: 'New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics.' Given recent advances in technology and understanding, this is a time of extraordinary opportunity for research in astronomy and astrophysics. This report is based on a comprehensive community-driven process and presents exciting yet realistic recommendations for the next decade. The AAS urges the astronomical community to support the report and its priorities."

Astro2010: A Community Consensus

New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics is the latest in a series of surveys produced every 10 years by the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences. It is organized by the NRC's Board on Physics and Astronomy (BPA) in cooperation with the Space Studies Board (SSB), with support from NASA, NSF, and DOE. Many of today's most powerful and scientifically productive ground- and space-based observatories were built following the recommendations of earlier decadal surveys.

The 23-member Astro2010 Survey Committee, chaired by Roger Blandford (Stanford University), surveyed the whole astronomical enterprise, from science to infrastructure, and assessed ground- and space-based activities in astronomy and astrophysics, including both new and previously identified concepts. Their recommendations for the coming decade are addressed to the agencies supporting the field, the Congressional committees with jurisdiction over those agencies, the scientific community, and the public.

It is difficult to overemphasize the importance to our discipline of the decadal survey recommendations. Congress, the White House, and the funding agencies applaud us for undertaking this effort, and they will use our community priorities to allocate federal resources to astronomy and astrophysics projects.

During its two-year study, the committee weighed input from a sizable fraction of the AAS membership. Nearly 200 astronomers and astrophysicists served on scientifically or technically themed panels or infrastructure study groups. More than 300 white papers were submitted reviewing our current understanding and future directions in studies of planetary systems, the formation and evolution of stars and galaxies, and cosmology, along with more than 100 activity papers on new missions, observatories, and projects. About 150 white papers were submitted on the state of the profession, the need for certain types of technology development, and challenges in theory, computation, and laboratory astrophysics. And hundreds of astronomers participated in Town Hall meetings that members of the survey committee convened across the country over the last 18 months.

Simply put, every party in the astronomical community had multiple opportunities to provide input in a process that could hardly have been more inclusive. The decadal survey report presents many exciting opportunities for our field. It is imperative that we all support its recommendations so that Congress will take us seriously in providing the funding we need to implement our priorities. The astronomical community should also heed the suggestions for infrastructure issues such as those relating to education and training, minorities and women, and service in public policy.

AAS Decadal Survey Town Halls: Member Support Requested

In order for the astronomical community to be able to hear about the recommendations in greater detail this fall, the AAS will organize a set of Town Halls across the country with local support provided in the form of a venue and appropriate audiovisual resources. These Town Halls will each entail perhaps a half-day meeting, in which a presentation of the report by a Survey Committee member will be followed by a Q&A session moderated by an AAS officer or councilor.

We seek volunteers to host the meetings, just as the community did for the Town Halls earlier in the decadal survey process. This time, though, the AAS will decide which requests to host Town Halls can be approved, because there needs to be geographic diversity in the locations, and we need to coordinate travel for AAS Council and Survey Committee members.

We envision as many as a dozen Town Halls around the country, culminating with a final event at the AAS meeting in Seattle, Washington, in January 2011.

Each local host will be responsible for arranging the venue and for paying any costs (which should be minimal) associated with the event. The AAS has no funds available to underwrite expenses. The Town Halls can be held any time from September through November; earlier is probably better.

If you are interested in hosting an AAS Decadal Survey Town Hall, please send a statement of intent along with your preferred location and date to president at by August 23rd. We will make the selections as soon as possible after that.

More Information about Astro2010

Astro2010 Decadal Survey Website:

New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics (prepublication version):

Presentation slides from Aug. 13th briefing by Roger Blandford: