How Mission Delays Hurt Young Astronomers

Universe Today | 10/19/2018 | Staff
blacky (Posted by) Level 3
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Back in Ye Olden Times, the job of astronomer was a pretty exclusive club. Either you needed to be so rich and so bored that you could design, build, and operate your own private observatory, or you needed to have a rich and bored friend who could finance your cosmic curiosity for you. By contrast, today’s modern observatories are much more democratic, offering of a wealth of juicy scientific info for researchers across the globe. But that ease of access comes with its own price: you don’t get the instrument all to yourself, and that’s a challenge for young scientists and their research.

What was true in 1618 is still true in 2018: if you’ve got the money, you can build yourself an observatory and skywatch to your telescopic heart’s content. But the challenges and questions faced by the modern-day astronomical community are of a totally different flavor than the ones faced centuries ago. Sure, you could publish hand-drawn sketches of lunar craters, but you’re going to have a hard time getting published, as you’ve been scooped by a certain G. Galilei.

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Don’t get me wrong: amateur astronomers still have a valuable place in the 21st century scientific enterprise, enabling all sorts of citizen science projects, comet hunting, and more. But the vast bulk of astronomy papers submitted to journals every day rely on massive, complex, industrial observatories.

These installations are something relatively new to astronomy. From classics such as the Hubble Space Telescope to newcomers like ALMA, these facilities help us unlock some of the deepest, most difficult-to-answer questions in nature. What was our universe like in its youth? How do planets form around stars? What happens when galaxies collide? Are we alone?

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All great questions. All really, really difficult questions. All expensive questions.

In order to build an instrument to help solve some...
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