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Physics-astronomy merger wins big

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1:18pm, May 7, 2002
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From Albuquerque, N.M., at a meeting of the American Physical Society and American Astronomical Society

When galaxies merge, an explosion of new star formation takes place. Something analogous is happening at the intersection of particle physics and astronomy, according to a new report from the National Research Council in Washington, D.C. Not stars, but stellar science is bursting from that boundary, and the payoff is likely to include new knowledge about the nature of the universe.

In recent years, astronomers gazing upon the most enormous features of the universe–such as the cosmic microwave background–have found themselves also shedding light on puzzles in the subatomic realm usually studied by physicists (SN: 9/22/01, p. 184: When Branes Collide). Likewise, as physicists have probed the smallest specks of matter, such as quarks, they have uncovered forces and processes that shape the universe (SN: 3/10/01, p. 152: Jiggling the Cosmic Ooze).

"We are at a special moment in our journey to understand the universe and the physical laws that govern it," notes the report entitled "Connecting Quarks with the Cosmos." A committee of 21 astronomers and physicists released the document at this meeting. "The questions now being asked about the universe at its two extremes–the very large and the very small–are inextricably intertwined," they say.

To foster discovery at this intersection, the report recommends new observatories and labs and more cooperation among funding agencies: the Department of Energy, NASA, and the National Science Foundation.

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