[THIS IS A TRULY AMAZING OVERVIEW OF ASTRONOMY TODAY AND IN THE DAYS AND YEARS TO COME. IT IS NO SURPRISE TO ME THAT SUCH A WONDERFULLY CONSTRUCTED PIECE COMES FROM ESO, THE WORLD'S FOREMOST GROUND BASED ASTRONOMY ORGANIZATION.]
“The E-ELT is built to address a very broad astrophysical landscape. Predicting what this will look like between 2020 and 2030 can only be incompletely drafted now. However, planned (i.e., not yet existing) facilities always have some degree of uncertainty attached to them and the exact progress in the relevant scientific fields will also depend on the success of upcoming facilities.
In 2020, ESO will have operated the VLT for more than two decades. A large fraction of the breakthrough science within the capabilities of the 8–10-metre-class telescopes will have been achieved and consolidation work will dominate. Among the second generation of ESO VLT instruments, MUSE (the wide-field Integral-Field Unit [IFU] optical spectrograph), KMOS (the near-infrared, deployable IFU spectrograph),SPHERE (the planet imager), ESPRESSO (the ultra-stable, high-resolution spectrograph) and potentially one other instrument will have been in use for several years.
The La Silla Observatory is likely to be operated at low cost and only for specific large programmes (e.g., similar to the HARPS survey).The survey telescopes, the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) and the 4.1-metre Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA), will have finished their first set of large surveys delivering follow-up targets, many too faint for the VLT.
Perhaps more importantly, the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimeter Array (ALMA) will have been collecting data in full science mode for several years and will have pushed back the frontiers in many scientific areas, predominantly in studies of the high-redshift Universe and star and planet formation. On the ground, no breakthrough facilities beyond the existing 8–10-metre-class telescopes and potentially a few additional, smaller survey telescopes will be operating, but several game-changing facilities are expected to emerge on the same timescale as the E-ELT: the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), as well as the 24-metre Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) and the 30-metre Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) optical near-infrared telescopes. The latter two represent some competition to, as well as complementing, the E-ELT and will be discussed further below. The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is expected to appear in the decade following the E-ELT and to mainly build on breakthroughs in cosmology.
In space, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) might be operating within its five-year minimum lifetime and about to enter its anticipated five-year extension. A dedicated workshop highlighted the strong synergy expected between the JWST and the E-ELT. Current missions such as the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), Spitzer, Herschel, Planck, Kepler will have ended, others might still be flying, but reaching the ends of their lifetimes: Chandra, XMM-Newton, etc.
A few new missions such as BepiColombo and Gaia on the European side will be operating; new ones (such as EUCLID, PLATO and LISA) are likely to be launched in the decade following the E-ELT’s first light.
Close to the E-ELT science case, many research areas are expected to have progressed significantly by 2020. Thanks to radial velocity surveys (e.g., HARPS, ESPRESSO), but also dedicated imaging surveys (e.g., MEarth, HAT-Net, etc.) and missions such as CoRoT, Kepler and Gaia, the catalogue of exoplanets is likely to have become very extensive. While the discovery of super-Earths in habitable zones is not excluded, it will remain the exception. Neptune- to Jupiter-mass planets will be known in great numbers,enabling progress in planet formation theory. Direct imaging of giant planets distant from their parent stars will be nearly routine.
Several atmospheres of (mostly transiting) Neptune- to Jupiter-like planets will have been coarsely studied. With the notable exception of Earth-like planets in habitable zones, which
remain to be found, the emphasis in exoplanet research will turn more towards characterisation than further discovery.
In the domain of star formation, ALMA and JWST will follow on from Spitzer, SOFIA and Herschel, and will be making enormous progress. Yet, the picture will remain incomplete as the inner few astronomical units of protoplanetary discs — including the habitable zone and inner rim of the protostellar disc — will await the insights to be generated by the E-ELT’s high spatial resolution. The study of galaxy formation and evolution is the declared strength of the JWST. The JWST will enable the study of mass assembly and chemical evolution of high-redshift galaxies by observing their stars and ionised gas. ALMA will complement these studies by observing the cold gas in these galaxies. Yet again,both facilities will have outstanding sensitivity but lower spatial and spectral resolution, which are the strengths of the E-ELT.
While a census and general picture of the formation of the highest redshift galaxies will be in place, a detailed understanding of these objects, which are anticipated to be of small size,
will await the E-ELT.”
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ALMA Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array
ESO, European Southern Observatory, builds and operates a suite of the world’s most advanced ground-based astronomical telescopes.
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