Title: "There is more room sideways"
Astronomy Spring Colloquia May 1 , 2012 Tuesday, 4:30pm-5:30pm, Peyton Hall auditorium:
Astronomy has been and is continuing to enjoy a golden phase. The light
gathering power of successive generations of both ground- and space-based
telescopes has steadily increased and thereby made it possible for astronomers
to probe the distant universe and study the faintest objects such as other planets.
I call this as the traditional or linear path for progress. However, large forces that
lie beyond academia have had equally big if not larger effect. Exponential progress in
semi-conductor industry has enabled astronomers to build huge detectors and transmit,
analyze and archive torrents of data. Improvements in quality of detectors and methodology
(due to funding by space agencies and weapons industry) have sustained this exponential
trajectory.The next frontier is defined by the decreasing cost in manufacturing (optics,
mechanical structures, motors).
These three developments offer a distinct new path for astronomical investigation
(as opposed to the traditional telescope aperture based approach). I term this
approach as lateral or sideways path to exponential progress. The sideways
approach is less capital intensive than the traditional approach and is thus
very well suited for this decade where astronomers will have to learn do more
with less. I will review the recent successes of this approach with some examples
(SDSS, PTF) and speculate on projects over this decade.