10-Year Astronomy Plan Calls For Massive New Observatory To Study Exoplanets and Black Holes

10-Year Astronomy Plan Calls For Massive New Observatory To Study Exoplanets and Black Holes

Artist’s conception of the central portion of the Next Generation Very Large Array. Credit: Sophia Dagnello, NRAO/AUI/NSF

NRAO project ranked as important new initiative.

The Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey (Astro2020) of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences has published its report and the Next Generation Very Large Array (ngVLA) received high priority for new ground-based observatories to be constructed during the coming decade. The report, in which ngVLA shared second ranking among ground-based projects, was the culmination of a lengthy process aimed at developing a comprehensive research strategy and vision for a decade of transformative science at the frontiers of astronomy and astrophysics.

The ngVLA is a system of 263 dish antennas spread across the entire extent of North America and concentrated in the U.S. Southwest that will provide dramatic new scientific capabilities to the world’s astronomers. The Astro2020 report led the ground-based facility list with the U.S. Extremely Large Telescope Project (US-ELT), a plan for two large optical telescopes — the Thirty Meter Telescope and the Giant Magellan Telescope, both under different stages of construction. After US-ELT, equal priority was given for development and construction for the ngVLA and the Cosmic Microwave Background Stage-4 experiment (CMB-S4).

“Being ranked as an important new initiative indicates that our colleagues from all specialties within astronomy and astrophysics have recognized that they need the ngVLA to meet the leading research challenges of the coming decades. We designed the ngVLA based on extensive advice from the research community and know it will be in high demand by scientists from around the world,” said NRAO Director Tony Beasley.

With the publication of the Astro2020 report, the ngVLA next will require approval by the National Science Foundation’s National Science Board and funding by Congress. Construction could begin by 2026 with early scientific observations starting in 2029 and full scientific operations by 2035.

“The high scientific priority given to the ngVLA reflects the breadth and depth of the science that it makes possible, from the formation of exoplanets, to testing relativity using pulsars and black holes, to the study of some of the earliest galaxies in the Universe. This high ranking is a strong endorsement, and it opens the door to the U.S. continuing its leadership in radio astronomy and thus astrophysics as a whole for decades to come,” said Alberto Bolatto, co-chair of the ngVLA Science Advisory Council and a Professor of Astronomy at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Artist’s conception of the central portion of the Next Generation Very Large Array (ngVLA) on the Plains of San Agustin in west-central New Mexico. Credit: Sophia Dagnello, NRAO/AUI/NSF

“This Astro2020 outcome is a direct result of the close collaboration between NRAO and the greater astronomical community in developing both the broad, transformative science case and technical design of the ngVLA over the last five-plus years,” said Eric Murphy, NRAO’s Project Scientist for ngVLA. “All of the community’s hard work has clearly paid off and we now look forward to continuing this collaboration as we finalize the design and move toward achieving first light with the ngVLA,” Murphy added.

The ngVLA is designed to have sensitivity to detect faint objects and resolving power — ability to see fine detail — more than 10 times greater than the current VLA. It can address fundamental questions in all major areas of astrophysics. The ngVLA’s capabilities will complement those of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (Read More

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