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Celestial wish list

Astronomers prioritize projects for the coming decade

Astronomers tasked with compiling a priority list of U.S. astronomy projects for the next decade are seeing red, and not just because of NASA’s meager science budget. A National Research Council report released August 13 ranks several telescopes observing the universe at infrared and at even longer, redder wavelengths among the highest-priority instruments to be developed between 2012 and 2021.

These include the proposed Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, an estimated $1.6-billion orbiting observatory that would examine the nature of dark energy, provide broad snapshots of the infrared sky and search for habitable, Earthlike planets. The telescope, which could be launched around 2020, would complement the ultrasharp but narrow vision of the James Webb Space Telescope, the infrared successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that is set to launch around 2015.

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