IPMU Colloquium

Speaker: Fabio Favata (Imperial College & Thalatta Consulting Ltd.)
Title: Space astronomy, past and future: a personal (Western) perspective
Date (JST): Wed, May 08, 2024, 13:30 - 15:00
Place: Lecture Hall
Abstract: Space astronomy is a historically young discipline, with the first successful space telescope (OAO-2, a 30 cm UV telescope) launched by NASA in 1968. While the first space telescopes were hardly larger than today’s amateur instruments, we have gone a long way, culminating with the Webb Observatory, the largest space telescope ever launched. We have surely lived, in the past few decades, through a “golden age” of space astronomy, that has enabled discoveries that have changed our understanding of physics and of the Universe (e.g., the existence of dark energy, or the accurate cosmological models enabled by the CMB maps).

This unprecedented success story has been made possible by a number of circumstances which may not extend straightforwardly into the future, at least in the US and in Europe. While many astronomers take further significant progress in the development of space facilities for granted, reality is likely to be more complex. The development of new large facilities by both NASA and ESA has met a number of challenges, both politically and technically. In addition, the time elapsed from the initial scientific idea to its fruition through the results of an actual space mission now often spans beyond the duration of a career. It is not obvious that the same approach and vision that has served space astronomy so well in the past will be successful in the future, and the golden age risks to be followed by an era in which the pace of progress slows significantly.

In my talk I discuss how and why have we come to this point, what are the risks for the future, in particular for the younger generation of scientists, and I will discuss new opportunities and possible solutions. Key elements include the importance of a diverse ecosystem of scientific ideas and facilities, of the new space ecosystem, as well as the growing, critical role in this field played by space actors in Asia.