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Astro2020 prioritizes extraterrestrial life, diversity in astronomy

Media Contact

Becka Bowyer

The newly released Astro2020 decadal survey has ranked the projects the astronomer community wants to prioritize for the next 10 years. The 614-page NASA-sponsored report highlights the search for extraterrestrial life, as well as stressing the need for greater diversity among astronomy’s ranks.

Cornell University astronomers representing a quarter of the department contributed to the report. Martha Haynes, Nikole Lewis, Gordon Stacey and Britney Schmidt served on panels for the survey, while Lisa Kaltenegger and Dmitry Savransky served as reviewers.


Martha Haynes

Distinguished Professor of Arts and Sciences in Astronomy

Martha Haynes, Distinguished Professor of Arts and Sciences in Astronomy, served on the State of the Profession and Societal Impacts panel and provided input on the field’s health and demographics.

Haynes say:

“Although previous decadal surveys noted the importance of many of the issues discussed here, this is the first decadal survey to have a distinct panel dedicated on this topic. This new recognition of the foundational nature of investment in human resources is evident in the whole structure of the report. The report also recognizes the demonstrated increase in innovation that a diverse community brings to the research enterprise and proposes specific steps that the agencies can take towards increasing diversity, equity and sustainability.”

Nikole Lewis

Assistant professor of astronomy and deputy director of the Carl Sagan Institute

Nikole Lewis, assistant professor of astronomy and deputy director of the Carl Sagan Institute, was involved in planning for the science program and requirements related to electromagnetic observations from space.

Lewis says:

“It was really an honor to be able to serve on one of the panels that helped to shape the recommendations from the survey. There were so many great ideas submitted for consideration by the community from white papers and other sources. I’m excited to see that there is a strong focus on building an astronomy and astrophysics workforce that is diverse, inclusive, and equitable in the report. I am looking forward to seeing how the exoplanet field evolves as we work toward the goals outlined in ‘Pathways to Habitable Worlds’ scientific priority area.” 

Gordon Stacey, astronomy professor and director of undergraduate studies, contributed to a panel that considered research activities involving observations at radio, far-infrared and high-energy wavelengths in space.

Stacey says:

“Cornell has ongoing activities that are directly related to the highest priority activities called out by the decadal report. For example, Cornell’s Fred Young Submillimeter Telescope (FYST) is designed to address fundamental physics as revealed through measurements of the Cosmic Microwave Background, far-infrared studies of galaxy formation and evolution, and the time domain astrophysics. These emerging technologies have applications on a variety of astrophysical platforms and leading to the future science missions.”

Jonathan Lunine

Jonathan Lunine

Professor of the Physical Sciences

Jonathan Lunine is chair of the department of astronomy and David C. Duncan Professor in Physical Sciences.

Lunine says:

“The priorities directly address the most important scientific questions astronomy can answer: How did everything begin? What is the nature of space itself, and how can we explore it through the effects of the most massive and exotic objects in the cosmos?  How do planets form and evolve toward places that can host life, and how many such places in the Galaxy are there?”

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