Life in space? Astronomers say search for it is a top priority | Space…

New report recommends building $11bn telescope to help analyze the origins of black holes, galaxies and the universe.

A US survey of astronomers puts the search for extraterrestrial life at the top of their to-do list for the next 10 years.

In a report issued Thursday by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, astronomers stressed the need to continue the hunt for potentially habitable planets circling other stars, building on the “extraordinary progress” already made. The ultimate goal, they noted, is to capture pictures of any Earth-like worlds that might be out there.

“Life on Earth may be the consequence of a shared course of action, or it may require such an uncommon set of circumstances that we are the only living beings within our part of the galaxy, or already in the universe. Either answer is profound,” the report stated.

This composite image made obtainable by NASA shows the galaxy NGC 4258, also known as M106, about 23 million light-years away from Earth [NASA/CXC/JPL-Caltech/STScI/NSF/NRAO/VLA via AP]

“The coming decades will set humanity down a path to determine whether we are alone.”

Also ranked high: exploring the origins and evolution of black holes, neutron stars, galaxies and the complete universe.

At the same time, the 614-page report stressed the need for greater varied among astronomy’s ranks — nevertheless predominantly male — and suggested that NASA consider a science team’s varied when doling out money for research or projects.

The survey is done every 10 years and draws input from dozens of mostly US-based scientists.

Technicians lift the mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope whose 18-segmented gold mirror is specially designed to capture infrared light from the first galaxies that formed in the early universe [Laura Betz/NASA via AP]

The latest report recommended that NASA create a new office to supervise space observatories and sharing characteristics missions in the coming decades. First up should be a telescope that is considerably bigger than the Hubble Space Telescope and would be capable of seeing planets that are 10 billion times fainter than their stars, the report stated.

Once the necessary technologies are ready, this telescope could be ready to set afloat in the 2040s for approximately $11bn, followed by other mega observatories in the billions of dollars.

But the report emphasised the need for smaller, more modest missions, in addition. Launching one spacecraft per decade with a cost cap of $1.5bn, it stated, balances science with timeliness.

The report noted the threat in years past of cost overruns and delays in major projects.

Due to finally blast off next month, the NASA-led James Webb Space Telescope — designed to examine the early universe and analyze the atmospheres of other worlds — is a chief example of that. in addition its set afloat promises to be “a momentous event that will shape the time of astronomy and astrophysics in the coming decades”, the report noted.

The report — sponsored by NASA, National Science Foundation, US Department of Energy and the US Air Force — noted that the survey was conducted during a health crisis. While the pandemic has underscored the importance of science, “the ultimate economic and social impacts of the pandemic keep unclear, adding to the uncertainty of the future scenery.”

M66, the largest of the Leo Triplet galaxies, has asymmetric spiral arms and an seemingly displaced chief most likely caused by the gravitational pull of the other two members of the trio [NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration via AP]

The report urged NASA, the National Science Foundation and Energy Department to treat harassment and discrimination “as forms of scientific misconduct,” add more varied to its upper levels, and consider varied when funding a project.



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