Astronomy’s Next Big Things

Astronomy’s Next Big Things

F2) Astronomy’s Next Big Things

Organizer: Rick Fienberg

Life beyond Earth. Dark matter and dark energy. Event horizons around supermassive black holes. It is hard to imagine a more enigmatic set of cosmic mysteries. Perhaps their allure has to do with the fact that we have not yet detected any of these phenomena directly, though astrophysicists have many reasons to think they exist—just as they thought that kilonovas exist, which we now know is true thanks to the recent observation of gravitational waves and electromagnetic radiation from colliding neutron stars. Right now, some of the largest and most advanced telescopes on Earth are working to make more unknowns known. Many are in South America or elsewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, scanning the heavens in search of astronomy’s next big thing. If history is any guide, they’ll answer some of our big questions — and pose even bigger ones. And astronomers will be ready, because they’re already building even bigger telescopes, behemoths that will enable us to see the earliest and most distant stars and galaxies.

In this session, builders and users of some of astronomy’s most advanced tools will share their perspectives on some of the biggest questions now being asked across the spectrum of astronomical sciences and the roles that current and future instruments will play in answering them. We’ll learn about deep and wide sky surveys in visible light, arrays of radio telescopes the size of the entire planet, and sensitive detectors producing jaw-dropping images of never-before-seen phenomena such as planetary systems in formation. In addition to presenting and forecasting cutting-edge science from the new era of “multimessenger” astronomy, panelists will address the crucial role of international collaboration in big science projects as well as the myriad ways such projects give back to the participating countries — not only with discoveries, but also with contributions to education, technology, culture, and economic development.