The Future of Astronomy
Space is expanding and the Universe is, literally, growing. The future of Astronomy and Astrophysics is wide open! With this in mind, I'll attempt to narrow the immediate future of Astronomy down to three basic directions.
1. Space Exploration: Since the days of Battlestar Galactica , A Space Odyssey, Star Wars and Star Trek, people have wanted to travel to distant worlds at light speeds. Einstein's laws of relativity tells us that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. However, we can certainly get close.
While Star Trek makes people believe that light speed travel and interplanetary radio wave conversations are easy, they are not. Light and radio waves travel much faster than the human eye can possibly follow. Those nice Trekkie holograms may be feasible one day but the interplanetary conversations in real time are not even in the distant future.
For space exploration, we should expect manned shuttles to Mars. We can expect faster and more productive space stations. If we follow Newton's and Einstein's laws using invariant mass propulsion, human beings quite possibly will reach 10% of light speed. The current space shuttle travels around 25,000 to 30,000 miles per hour. With the direction that technology is going, we could very well reach speeds more than double those in the very near future. A trip to the moon and back, with plenty of time for research, in less than two days!
2. Cosmology: This is the quantitative study of the Universe. Cosmology almost always deals in the mathematical . Cosmology really took off by using Einstein's theory of relativity. This theory allowed cosmologists to study and, more importantly, understand very distant objects .
In the very near future, Cosmology will quite probably determine the origins of the Universe, the ultimate materials that make up space and the ever elusive, dark matter. Right not, Cosmology is entering it's Golden Age!
To understand Cosmology and where it's going, think BIG. Cosmologists study the entire Universe. Not just Earth and our galaxy. Cosmology studies the Universe in it's entirety. From beginning to now. That's more than the mind can begin to comprehend . But, they are certainly trying! Here lies a large portion of growth in Astrological and Physics future.
3. Extraterrestrial Life: I believe that this area of Astrophysics will grow as the first two grow. As we understand how to traverse the solar system and the Universe quicker and smarter, I believe we will discover that we are not the only galactic kids on the block! As cosmology shows us other galaxies and quantum math applications, we will begin to have a greater understanding of how to reach these neighboring galaxies, and I believe, the life that lives there.
Right now the Study of Terrestrial Intelligence ( SETI ) is sending radio waves out into space. The problem is, they only travel at the speed of light. If we can't figure out how to travel further and to send radio waves from shorter distances, it may very well be thousands, if not millions, of years away before we get a message back.
Here's how it works. SETI sends out radio signals. Those signals travel through speed at, essentially, the speed of light. If life is 1 million light years away from us, it will take them 1 million years to get the signal. And, it would take us 1 million more to get one back! The only solution would be to have unmanned shuttles that could travel at almost the speed of light AND send a signal at the same time . This way we might could cut that time down to maybe a few hundred or thousands years!
One last thing that will change in the next few years, is that space workhorse the Hubble telescope! The telescopes two decade mission will come to an end in 2010. It will be replaced with, quite probably, a telescope that uses infrared wave-lengths. Hubble used optical and ultra-violet wave-lengths. The newer technology should send back some awe inspiring photos from deep space. The other advantage to the newer telescope will be the broader scope. Hubble photographed into deep space, but only a very small portion. The newer model will have a broader scope and therefore will cover much more of space!
While all these things are in the future of astronomy, the greatest asset science has, are the children that are learning it today! I encourage everyone to look through a telescope. Watch a meteorite shower. Learn about all that space has to offer. It will make the difference in how quickly all these things come to pass. Who knows, you may be raising the next Einstein! Give it a go.