Infrared Astronomy in the Past Half Century
L'astronomie infrarouge a considérablement changé durant les quatre dernières décennies. Elle atteint la limite où les budgets menacent de devenir un fardeau inacceptable pour la société. Notre discipline devra y penser soigneusement.
Infrared astronomy has greatly changed in the past four decades. From a smallextension to optical astronomy that stretched out to slightly longer wavelengths, infrared astronomygradually reached out to cover the entire wavelength range to the radio regime, andestablished itself as a field of importance in its own right. These efforts required the developmentof new detection techniques that permitted access to ever larger portions of the near-,midand far-infrared regime and extended out into the submillimeter domain. Infrared andsubmillimeter techniques became essential for the investigations of star formation processesthat took place at such low temperatures that no optical emission could be expected. The newobservations pierced the dark dust clouds populating the Milky Way to provide a clear view ofthe Galaxy's center. In the distant Universe startlingly luminous merging galaxies came intoview. We were beginning to look far back in time to perceive the gradual evolution of galaxiesover the æons. A serious drawback, however, persisted. At progressively longer wavelengthsthe view of the Universe became increasingly blurred. Ordinary telescopes no longer providedsharp views. Interferometers would have to be pioneered and constructed at great cost. Majorinvestments led to the construction of dedicated facilities, on the ground, in the air and in space. The increased funding, however, also dictated that infrared astronomers reorganize themselves.Initially started by a few individuals working with their students and a few technicians, infraredastronomy had to change as increasing numbers of scientists entered the field and began to erectfacilities that required the dedicated efforts of hundreds of astronomers on a single project. Infraredastronomy has evolved into Big Science, a limit at which increasing budgets threatento become an unacceptable burden on society. Members of our discipline will need to thinkcarefully how we may continue to pursue further advances within socially affordable limits.
Infrared AstronomyVisions for Infrared Astronomy.