October 23, 2021

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This report could make or break the next 30 years of US astronomy

19 min read

Ask astronomers what question they most want to answer, and you will get scattered responses: How did the first stars, galaxies and black holes form? What is the nature of dark matter and dark energy? Are we alone?

Each question demands its own large telescope: no ultimate, one-size-fits-all instrument will ever exist, for none can be made to gather each and every kind of cosmic light. Black holes sometimes shine in X-rays, for instance, whereas Earth-like exoplanets are best studied in optical and infrared light. Yet such projects so strain the fraction of public and private funds allocated to astronomy that only a few — perhaps just one — can be prioritized at a time, leading to pileups of also-ran proposals and anxious researchers awaiting a rare chance to open new windows on the universe.

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