18 October 2019

Astro2020 Webinar on 28 October

Fiona Harrison, California Institute of Technology

Robert Kennicutt, University of Arizona

Astro2020 Logo


How should we determine the key priorities for the field of astronomy and astrophysics for the coming decade? The National Academies invite you to attend a town hall webinar on Monday, 28 October 2019, from 1:30 to 2:30 pm ET as part of the Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics. During the webinar, co-chairs Fiona Harrison and Rob Kennicutt will discuss the progress and current plans for the study. Their talk will be followed by a Q&A session with the audience.

Register to Attend Online

Astro2020 Survey Update from the Co-Chairs

It has been a busy few months for Astro2020. The survey committee (“Steering Committee") held its first face-to-face meeting in Washington, DC, in July. There it received presentations from NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Dept. of Energy, as well as background briefings from congressional and White House staffers. All three agencies encouraged Astro2020 to develop an ambitious, visionary decadal strategy, supported by a strong and inspiring scientific vision and tempered with advice on how to respond to unanticipated changes in the funding landscape or projects in the coming years. The remainder of the meeting was devoted to organizational matters. These included discussions of instructions for the various survey panels and the independent technical assessment exercise ("TRACE") that will be carried out by the Aerospace Corporation for selected projects.

Another important milestone in July was the receipt of 292 community white papers on activities, projects, and state of the profession considerations (APCs). Together with the 590 science white papers received earlier in the year, these materials form the foundation for the decadal survey deliberations. Both of us have been impressed not only by the response of our community but also by the superb quality of so many of these papers. Each one has been assigned to at least one of the decadal panels and will be discussed early in their assessment process. The APCs describe a wide range of activities, ranging from major flagship projects in space and on the ground, to medium to small scale projects, supporting programs for research, and the state of the profession and related topics (65 papers). Copies of all of the science and APC white papers can be accessed from the Astro2020 website.

Another main focus of activity since our last update has been the appointment of chairs and members of the science, program, and state of the profession panels. The panels and their chairs:

  • State of the Profession and Societal Impacts: Margaret Hanson (U Cincinnati) and Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz (UC Santa Cruz)
  • Cosmology: Daniel Eisenstein (Harvard)
  • Galaxies: Daniela Calzetti (U Mass)
  • Stars, the Sun, and Stellar Populations: Sarbani Basu (Yale)
  • The Interstellar Medium and Star and Planetary Formation: Lee Hartmann (U Michigan)
  • Compact Objects and Energetic Phenomena: Deepto Chakrabarty (MIT)
  • Exoplanets, Astrobiology, and the Solar System: Victoria Meadows (U Washington)
  • Electromagnetic Observations from Space I: Marcia Rieke (U Arizona)
  • Electromagnetic Observations from Space II: Steven Kahn (Stanford)
  • Optical and Infrared Observations from the Ground: Timothy Heckman (Johns Hopkins)
  • Radio, Millimeter, and Submillimeter Observations from the Ground: Andrew Baker (Rutgers)
  • Particle Astrophysics and Gravitation: John Beacom (Ohio State U) and Laura Cadonati (Georgia Tech)
  • An Enabling Foundation for Research: David Spergel (Flatiron Institute)

Full membership for the science panels is posted on the Astro2020 website along with four program panels and the state of the profession panel. The remaining program panel memberships are awaiting final approval and will be posted on the Astro2020 website as they are finalized.

All six science panels met during the summer to discuss the relevant white papers and will complete their final meetings by November. The resulting output of these panels will be a set of the most pressing science questions and discovery areas for the next decade. These will be presented to the Steering Committee and program panels before the end of the calendar year so that the resulting science priorities can drive the subsequent program assessment and strategic planning phases of the survey.

Planning for the state of the profession and program panel activities are also well underway. The program panels will meet three times over the next six months to assess the projects submitted in their areas. Their main tasks are to determine how well the projects presented in the white papers match to the overall science priorities emerging from Astro2020, along with an evaluation of the projects’ technical readiness, risk, and cost estimates (the latter with the help of the external TRACE process). The Panel on An Enabling Foundation for Research will primarily be examining areas where investment in cross-cutting activities (e.g., laboratory astrophysics, theory, computation, data gathering, archiving, processing, etc.) can be especially effective in advancing the overall research strategy. The co-chairs of the Panel on the State of the Profession and Societal Impacts have developed a comprehensive plan of work that will result in actionable recommendations in areas critical to the future health of our profession and its members.

We appreciate the community’s participation in and attention to the process thus far, and encourage further engagement where possible and appropriate. We are planning a series of other updates in the coming months. A town hall webinar will take place on 28 October, and more details are posted on the Astro2020 website. We will also present an update at an AAS town hall in Honolulu on 7 January 2020, and a listening session is being organized by the co-chairs of the State of the Profession and Societal Impacts panel on 6 January 2020. We do need to caution that with the deliberative stages of the survey well underway, we will not be able to comment on specific projects or issues under our consideration, or provide any preliminary findings, to maintain the objectivity of the study process. These results will be announced with the release of the report. Nevertheless, we intend to keep you up to date on the progress of the survey as it develops over the coming year.

About the Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics (Astro2020)

Astro2020 is a partnership between the National Academies and the astronomical community to survey the field of astronomy and astrophysics and provide priorities for the most important scientific and technical activities for the upcoming decade. It will also serve as a guide for scientists, policy makers, and agencies invested in the astronomical sciences. Visit our website to sign up for our mailing list and keep up to date on the latest developments including calls for input and upcoming events.