Laboratory Astrophysics White Paper

Brickhouse, Nancy; Federman, Steve; Kwong, Victor; Salama, Farid; Savin, Daniel Wolf; Stancil, Phillip; Weingartner, Joe; Ziurys, Lucy

Laboratory astrophysics and complementary theoretical calculations are the foundations of astronomical and planetary research and will remain so for many generations to come. From the level of scientific conception to that of the scientific return, it is our understanding of the underlying processes that allows us to address fundamental questions regarding the origins and evolution of galaxies, stars, planetary systems, and life in the cosmos. In this regard, laboratory astrophysics is much like detector and instrument development at NASA and NSF; these e orts are necessary for the astronomical research being funded by the agencies. The NASA Laboratory Astrophysics Workshop met at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) from 14-16 February, 2006 to identify the current laboratory data needed to support existing and future NASA missions and programs in the Astrophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate (SMD). Here we refer to both laboratory and theoretical work as laboratory astrophysics unless a distinction is necessary. The format for the Workshop involved invited talks by users of laboratory data, shorter contributed talks and poster presentations by both users and providers that highlighted exciting developments in laboratory astrophysics, and breakout sessions where users and providers discussed each others' needs and limitations. We also note that the members of the Scientific Organizing Committee are users as well as providers of laboratory data. As in previous workshops, the focus was on atomic, molecular, and solid state physics. The NASA Universe Working Group (UWG) within the SMD requested a White Paper be drawn up outlining the conclusions of the Workshop for presentation at the next UWG meeting in April 2006. Specifically, the request included 1. addressing the major science goals as defined in the 2006 NASA Strategic Plan and then providing details on the critical laboratory astrophysics data requirements that will have to be met, if the desired science results are actually to be achieved, 2. reporting of recent significant astronomical results where the input from laboratory astrophysics was of critical importance, and 3. discussing in detail the specific laboratory astrophysics efforts that will need to be undertaken in direct support of missions and programs that are on the near horizon, specifically Herschel, SOFIA, JWST, Hubble servicing, and ALMA (the latter of primary concern to NSF). These points are addressed in the subsequent sections of this requested White Paper, which also contains a set of recommendations drawn from a consensus view of the Workshop participants. A number of points figured prominently at the UNLV Workshop, points that were raised in the White Paper from the 2002 NASA Ames Laboratory Astrophysics Workshop. These include: \Laboratory facilities are aging and major funding is required to replace them with modern, state-of-the-art equipment" and \The training of new scientists in laboratory astrophysics is crucial for the future of the field, but the low level of funding is making it more difficult to attract students..." In the last four years the situation has become even more dire. Laboratory astrophysics has reached a point where it is ceasing to be a viable, productive field. This should be of great concern to NASA and NSF. Without laboratory astrophysics, the scientific return from current and future NASA missions and NSF ground-based observations will diminish significantly. Without laboratory astrophysics the future progress of astronomy and astrophysics is imperiled. Recommendations are provided below that address this issue in a time of limited resources, especially funding.


More About This Work

Academic Units
Astrophysics Laboratory
Published Here
April 28, 2017


Proceedings of the 2006 NASA Laboratory Astrophysics Workshop, P. F. Weck, V. H. S. Kwong, and F. Salama, editors (NASA/CP-2006-214549, 2006), p. 1.