By Eduardo Rosal
Astronomy in the early 21st century will be focused more on the search for extraterrestrial life than any other scientific activity, a study published Thursday shows.
People will read, people will work on experiments, but two-thirds of the time will be spent searching for earthlings’ cousins in space, according to the most recent findings from the National Institutes of Health.
The study, titled “Planet Exploration in The 21st Century,” surveyed the priorities for the 13 different institutes studying astronomy in the United States, as well as labs at schools, hospitals and universities.
The survey of 46,000 people — some 400,000 people since the study began in 2006 — raised dozens of questions that scientists have spent the last decade working on.
One of the first ideas that emerged from the survey was that researchers should focus on both solar system and extra-planetary systems when the sky is dark. Another was to increase the number of telescopes for discovering new planets.
Bruce Britt, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University and one of the study’s authors, said the survey was not designed to create a specific science policy, but it yielded suggestions for how the nation’s researchers might act.
“The nice thing about the big survey is we got so many suggestions that it was really a bipartisan document,” Britt said. “We had Democrats and Republicans saying that we should look into optical telescopes, we need to get lots of more telescopes, we need to get more microlensing detection.”