Dark Energy Bad for Planets
Happy D-Day June 6!
Dr. Geoffrey Marcy, along with colleague Paul Butler, were first to discover planets orbiting other stars. (However, another group in Europe beat them to the publishing line.) Since 1995 Dr. Marcy has become the leading planet hunter, discovering hundreds of new worlds. May 27 at a symposium in MIT, Dr. Marcy expressed his anger that a Terrestrial Planet Finder mission, which he has long advocated, has been pushed out of the funding queue. TPF was conceived to examine the nearest stars for habitable planets. Dr. Marcy lamented that planet hunting does not have support in the astrophysics community. In a 2001 Decadal survey, TPF was a number one priority. Since then many of NASA's astrophysics missions have been cancelled, largely due to emphasis on "dark energy."
In the 2006 NASA budget, TPF was delayed indefinitely. The troubles continued in 2007, when an ad hoc committee of the National Research Council pushed a Joint Dark Energy Mission (JDEM) to the front of the astrophysics line. In Newport Beach this writer argued to the committee that "dark energy" would be bad for science. In the 2010 Decadal Survey, a cobbled-together concept called WFIRST, based on JDEM, was given first priority. Now, due to the mounting costs of the James Webb Space Telescope, WFIRST or anything like it are not likely to fly until year 2030.
How many times does a Cassandra have to warn that "dark energy" is a bad idea? While press stories crow about DE, other promising science has been pushed aside. TPF has also faced competition from a Space Interferometry Mission. Among the wreckage is an International X-Ray Observatory (IXO) and the LISA mission to search for gravitational waves, also delayed indefinitely. The end result is that no missions, even "dark energy" missions, will fly anytime soon.
Discovery of new worlds is a great achievement for science. Humans have long dreamed about exploring planets in other solar systems. Dr. Marcy, the Kepler mission, and others have shown that extrasolar planets are many and varied. The bottom line is that untold numbers of planets exist, while "dark energy" probably does not. Why should emphasis on DE be allowed to wreck science?