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«New Horizons A Decadal Plan for Australian Astronomy 2006 – 2015 Prepared by the National Committee for Astronomy of the Australian Academy of ...»

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New Horizons

A Decadal Plan for

Australian Astronomy

2006 – 2015

Prepared by the National Committee for Astronomy of the Australian Academy of Science November 2005

Editorial Note

This document is Volume I of the Decadal Plan. It is the culmination of

over one year’s effort by the Australian astronomical community. The Plan

is based on the reports of nine Working Groups, comprising over 100

astronomers, engineers and educators from over 30 Australian institutions.

The Working Group reports are published on CD (included with the printed copy of Volume I) as part of Volume II. The Decadal Plan was edited for the National Committee of Astronomy by an Editorial Board comprising Brian Boyle (chair), Chris Tinney (vice-chair), Charles Jenkins, Elaine Sadler and John Storey.

Cover images:

The Southern Milky Way © Anglo-Australian Observatory/David Malin Images This wide-angle picture covers the part of the Milky Way between Sagittarius and Norma that makes up the dusty body of “The Emu in the Sky”. It was made with colour film and an ordinary camera attached to the AngloAustralian Telescope.

Warlu Time © 2003 Charmaine Green This painting, Warlu Time, was commissioned by the ATNF for an international SKA workshop that was held in Geraldton, Western Australia, in July 2003. The original painting is acrylic on canvas.

Charmaine Green is a member of the Marra Art collective in Geraldton.

Both images reproduced with the kind permission of the artist.

© Commonwealth of Australia 2005 ISBN 0 85847 226 0 This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced by any process without prior written permission from the Commonwealth available through Info Products.

New Horizons A Decadal Plan for Australian Astronomy 2006 – 2015 Gemini North at sunset Prepared by the National Committee for Astronomy of the Australian Academy of Science November 2005 Contents Executive Summary ii Audience and Intent vi

1. New Horizons for a New Decade 1

2. Australian Astronomy 2005 5

3. The Foundation of Astronomy: Education 11

4. A Strategic Plan for the Next Decade

–  –  –

ii New Horizons We live in a truly remarkable time.

We live in a truly remarkable time. As our understanding of the Universe deepens, we are seeing connections emerge between many formerly disparate fields of research. Astronomy targets some of the biggest questions it is possible to ask. It explores the structure of nature on scales and in realms too extreme to examine in any laboratory. Ultimately, it is through astronomy that we will understand the emergence of life within the tapestry of planets, stars, dust clouds and galaxies of our Universe. It is through astronomy that we will understand how this emergence is linked to the fundamental laws governing the origin, evolution and final fate of the Universe itself.

Astronomy, and Australian astronomy in particular, can boast some of the most remarkable discoveries in recent years, including the detection of planets orbiting other stars, the discovery of a unique double pulsar, and the detection of a mysterious “dark energy” that pervades our Universe and opposes the relentless pull of gravity.

Australian astronomy’s outstanding track record has been, and must continue to be, based on a suite of strategic investments in both national and international infrastructure, and in the people who turn such facilities into research outcomes. The nation’s areas of internationally acknowledged strength—as measured by capability, global impact and natural resource—are therefore targeted as high priorities: ground-based astronomy at optical/infrared wavelengths, astronomy at radio wavelengths, and theoretical astrophysics.

This Decadal Plan presents the Australian astronomical community’s strategic vision for our

continued engagement with this great adventure. It maximises astronomy’s benefit to the nation by:

• continuing and enhancing our capacity to undertake world-leading research;

• stimulating our capacity for innovation in science and engineering;

• training a new generation of graduate and postgraduate students in science and engineering;

• and, perhaps most importantly, inspiring and educating the public at large.

Over the coming decade, 2006 – 2015, international astronomy will continue a trend toward increasingly global projects and collaborations. These include the Square Kilometre Array program and the development of Extremely Large Telescopes. Australia must be an effective partner in the international consortia building these highly sophisticated next-generation facilities. To do so, the nation must build on the research base of its strong national facilities and continue to strengthen support for its internationally renowned research community. It must invest in innovative research and development into new facilities, new sites and new technologies.

Stephan's Quintet A Decadal Plan for Australian Astronomy 2006 – 2015 iii To achieve these goals we propose an interlocking “pyramid” of required investments in people and facilities over the coming decades. Partnership in the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and an Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) form the apex and long-term goal of this pyramid, supported in the nearer term by continued partnership in international 8-m class telescopes, and investment in national facilities such as the Anglo-Australian Observatory, Australia Telescope and a planned 2-m Antarctic telescope. The foundations of this pyramid will be secured by continued support of university-run facilities and experiments, together with the observational and theoretical research programs that motivate the entire structure. This foundation is essential to training and developing the generation of scientists and engineers who will build and exploit the major facilities at the pyramid’s apex.

Looking beyond the astronomy sector, maximum return to Australian industry comes through early engagement in the relevant technologies. Creating the best training environment and career structure in the “enabling sciences” of physics and mathematics in turn provides the essential underpinning of national innovation. Communicating the results of astronomical research to the public—especially children—in an exciting and accessible way is an effective approach towards raising the scientific literacy of our nation.

Significant prioritisation has been required in developing the goals outlined in this Plan. A nation of Australia’s size cannot compete on every playing field in international astronomy. Major international developments like the Atacama Large Millimeter Array and space astronomy missions like the James Webb Space Telescope are just a few of the many projects that we have decided not to participate in directly, in order to focus on the pyramid of interlinked investments most critical to Australian astronomy’s future.

Because the coming decade’s major astronomical facilities will be truly global in scope and membership, Australia must develop a model of governance and executive authority for astronomy that allows it to negotiate effectively with international partners and manage participation in these projects to maximum national benefit. These next-generation facilities will be built at the world’s best sites—in some cases, these sites will be on Australian territory.

The development of new radio astronomy infrastructure in Western Australia, leading to the start of construction of the SKA Phase 1 at the end of this decade, will be an effective way for Australia to engage in the SKA at the 10% level. In the optical/infrared domain, 10% membership of an Extremely Large Telescope project is also required. The path to this ELT engagement will require completing and maintaining Australia’s 20% access to an 8-m class telescope, as well as developing key Extremely Large Telescope technologies and exploring the opportunities associated with our Antarctic sites.

During the first five years of this plan the required level of new investment in major facilities is approximately A$50M1, rising to a total of approximately A$125M for the full decade. New investment over the next 10 years will be supported by the reprioritisation of A$50M from existing operational funds to meet investment goals in new infrastructure.

To parallel this investment in facilities and fund research activities across the foundation of the astronomy pyramid, similar levels of growth must be achieved in the funding won by astronomers through the National Competitive Grants Program operated by the Australian Research Council.

This should result in the level of competitive grant support being, on average, A$3M per annum higher than current levels in the first five years of this plan and A$6M per annum higher in the second half of the decade.

Over the past decade the Australian astronomical community has demonstrated the ability to formulate a strong vision, prioritise its goals and deliver on its promises. This Decadal Plan is an extension of our vision to 2015 and is an expression of our commitment to deliver the best possible outcomes for Australian astronomy and the nation.

–  –  –

vi New Horizons This Plan sets out large-scale goals.

This Decadal Plan presents the Australian astronomical community’s strategic vision for the ten years 2006–2015. It follows on from the previous Plan Australian Astronomy: Beyond 2000.

Australian astronomy is funded, managed and executed in a variety of ways. Most astronomical research takes place in universities, and is funded by the Commonwealth (both directly, and via the Australian Research Council), State governments, industrial partners and overseas research organisations. Other organisations and agencies, including DEST, CSIRO and the AAO, have important and distinct roles, both performing and supporting astronomical research.

Together, these bodies are the audience for this Plan. The Plan emphasises those areas of research policy where the astronomical community has a unique voice, and for which direct government funding is essential. Recommendations in a broader context that contribute to a wider debate on the resourcing and future direction of universities and other research institutions are also made.

This Plan sets out large-scale goals. To reach these goals will require much detailed work and planning as funding opportunities become clearer over the decade. This detail will be the subject of a set of implementation plans, developed and regularly revised by the community.

With this Plan, Australian astronomers also speak to each other. The Plan is built upon detailed discussions in a series of Working Groups, whose reports appear in Volume II. These analyse the scientific opportunities and strengths in the community, map out research directions and priorities for the next decade, and are the solid basis for the development of this Plan. The community has worked together in the formulation of a strategy for investment that is in the best national interest.

–  –  –

1 New Horizons The questions that astronomers seek to answer are amongst the biggest it is possible to ask.

Astronomy is a profound expression of humanity’s need to understand how the Universe works. We are living through a remarkable era of discovery in astronomy. For the first time we have found clear evidence for planets orbiting other stars, for massive black holes occupying the centres of our own Galaxy and many other galaxies, and for a dark energy component to the Universe whose origin and nature we have yet to fully understand. As the full complexity of the cosmos becomes apparent, today’s astronomers require cross-disciplinary skills in fields as diverse as computer modelling, chemistry, fluid dynamics, statistics and even biology.

Over the coming decade, astronomers in Australia and around the world will undertake basic and fundamental research into the laws of physics on scales and in realms too extreme to examine in any laboratory. The questions that astronomers seek to answer are amongst the biggest it is possible to ask.

What is the nature of the dark energy and dark matter?

One of the great puzzles of modern cosmology is that up to 95% of the Universe apparently consists of dark matter and dark energy, whose physical nature is unknown, and which we can only observe indirectly by measuring their effects on visible stars and gas. Determining the nature of these dark components of the Universe is an important problem in fundamental physics.

The existence of dark matter was first suggested more than 20 years ago, but the presence of dark energy has only recently been deduced from the observation of distant supernova explosions, which shows that the expansion of the Universe is speeding up. There are many possible forms this dark energy could take, and detailed studies are needed to distinguish between competing theoretical models. Over the next decade, measurements of very large numbers of standard candles (e.g. supernovae) or standard rulers (e.g. the scales on which galaxies cluster) in the early Universe are needed, and new wide-field optical and radio facilities have been proposed to tackle this problem.

How and when did the first stars form in the early Universe?

The very early Universe, as revealed by study of the relic radiation from the Big Bang, was almost completely uniform in density. This is in complete contrast to the Universe we see today, which is complex, inhomogeneous and full of stars and galaxies. At some point in its first few million years, the Universe must have undergone a fundamental transition in structure powered by the first starlike objects to be formed. When, where and how did the first stars form? Were magnetic fields involved in their formation? How massive were these stars? And how did they subsequently influence the evolution of the Universe?

Simulation of the early Universe A Decadal Plan for Australian Astronomy 2006 – 2015 2 How are galaxies assembled and how do they evolve?

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