Nov 2, 2021 - Science

Defining astronomy's next decade

an image of a galaxy

A magnified galaxy seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo: NASA/ESA/STScI/Saurabh Jha

Astronomers are on the edge of their seats this week, awaiting the release of a document on Thursday that will help govern the next 10 years of their field.

Why it matters: Funding agencies like NASA rely on the document — called the decadal survey — to help them decide what missions should be supported in the future.

  • The James Webb Space Telescope and Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope were prioritized in previous decadal surveys, pushing them ahead in development.

Driving the news: This decadal survey — initially expected to be released last year but delayed due to the pandemic — should be officially released to the public Thursday.

  • The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine will host a webinar at 2pm ET on Thursday to discuss the decadal after the document's release at 11am ET.

The big picture: The specifics of the report aren't yet clear, but there are a few things the astronomy community is expecting.

  • This decadal should pick a flagship mission for the space science community to prioritize.
  • Four are currently in the running and would focus on answering big questions in astronomy, like how the early universe formed and where life might exist outside of the solar system.
  • Other recommendations from the report will focus on ground-based observatories and the state of the profession itself, which has been wrestling with a history of harassment and racism in recent years.

Go deeper: Astronomy's 10-year plan

Go deeper