Considerations for the Future of Astronomy
The three most important considerations that would be the primary focus for the future of astronomy, I believe, would be: 1) the continuing watch for NEO's (near earth objects) or more accurately named: earth (orbit) crossing asteroids; 2) the continuing quest to discover life on other worlds; and, 3) finding another suitable planet for human habitation.
In this paper, I will touch on the first consideration.
Historical geology tells us that there have been several events in the geologic record that have made a great percentage of the living species extinct. The most famous of these was the CT (Cretaceous/Tertiary) boundary event that happened about 65 million years ago. This event has been thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs. It was caused by a huge asteroid that impacted into what is today the northern Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. The resulting blast wave and fireball forever changed the life on earth, and, for many decades thereafter, the climate. Global darkness, caused by trapped dust in the stratosphere and ionosphere, blocked most incoming sunlight, causing a "nuclear winter" of continual freezing temperatures in most latitudes. This wreaked havoc on most remaining species that were able to survive the first few hours or days of the main blast. If species survived this, they were not able to survive the colossal climate change.
Now fast forward to the present time. There is a small, poorly funded "international agency", today, that is on watch for NEO's. It's called Project Space Watch. A few astronomers based in UK, Australia, the USA and a few other countries are constantly employing a few of the worlds best observatories and telescopes to map and photograph any celestial objects, that mainly originate from the belt of asteroids in orbit between Mars and Jupiter. Of particular interest are those that wander from the belt to orbital positions that take them close to earth, or cross the earth's own orbit. These pose potential danger, as these objects could collide with earth. It only takes an object on upwards of one kilometer in diameter to have the ability to wipe out the human species. Two recent (geologically speaking) events come to mind. 1) the large meteor that carved out a near mile diameter crater in northern Arizona about 50,000 years ago. It was an iron object only about 50 yards in diameter. But the energy released upon collision was equivalent to a 10 megaton bomb - enough to wipe out a major city, if it was to happen in modern times. 2) an event that happened in Siberia in June 1908. Whatever this object was burst in the air about 5 miles altitude and created a similar energy yield which leveled nearly 1,000 square miles of timber land in a remote area. Though it left no crater, had it exploded over London or New York, it could have destroyed the whole city.
Now, with enough advance notice of an impending impact from an asteroid, comet or large meteoroid, we could launch a nuclear warhead or particle beam device to rendezvous with the threatening NEO and alter its orbit. For example, a nuclear explosion in space could occur far enough from the object so as not to break it into a myriad of smaller, threatening pieces, but, still near enough to deliver a relatively gentle, one PSI (pound per square inch) blast wave pressure or force upon the object's surface. That's all it would take to nudge the object from its frictionless orbit to a new, nonthreatening orbit. A one PSI net pressure, in theory, would be gentle enough to prevent the object from shattering.
Now, this is why Project Space Watch will, and should, always have a place in the future of astronomy.