Thursday, April 19, 2012

Athena is dead and with it "big" X-ray astronomy dies finally

Well, so much for hoping that there might be another big X-ray observatory launched next two decades (where big is billion+ euros or billion+ dollars). Athena, the de-scoped IXO, didn't get picked by ESA. See Dynamics of Cats for a discussion and link to the official report. When you don't have politicians to pork barrel you back into life it doesn't matter whether you're on budget, close to budget, or instead chronically mismanaged and way out of budget.

There will be medium-class X-ray missions that can keep some of the engineers and some of the scientists alive, akin to the way endangered animals are kept in zoos and reserves, but X-ray astronomy is dead as a major branch of astrophysics. It's a niche, and not one valued by other astronomers (apart from the Japanese, who will probably continue to chug along doing good new medium-size missions and new work), irrespective of the unique scientific perspective it (used to) provides.

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