Fundamental changes are taking place in the way we do astronomy. In twenty years time, it is likely that most astronomers will never go near a cutting-edge telescope, which will be much more efficiently operated in service mode. They will rarely analyse data, since all the leading-edge telescopes will have pipeline processors. And rather than competing to observe a particularly interesting object, astronomers will more commonly group together in large consortia to observe massive chunks of the sky in carefully designed surveys, generating petabytes of data daily. We can imagine that astronomical productivity will be higher than at any previous time. PhD students will mine enormous survey databases using sophisticated tools, cross-correlating different wavelength data over vast areas, and producing front-line astronomy results within months of starting their PhD. The expertise that now goes into planning an observation will instead be devoted to planning a foray into the databases. In effect, people will plan observations to use the Virtual Observatory. Here I examine the process of astronomical discovery, take a crystal ball to see how it might change over the next twenty years, and identify further opportunities for the future, as well as identifying pitfalls against which we must remain vigilant.
- Pub Date:
- September 2010
- Astrophysics - Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics;
- Physics - History of Physics
- Paper presented at "Accelerating the Rate of Astronomical Discovery", Special Session 5 of the IAU GA, August 11-14, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil