Ground-Based Discoveries, Page 2

Our Future in Space: Ground-Based Discoveries

Jay Melosh

I think astronomy continues to play a major role in planetary science. I think that will always play a role in planetary discoveries. It’s true the way you learn about the surface of Titan is not to look at it from the ground. That view is very limited, even though we have people like Caitlin Griffith who did a lot from the ground. But really the way to do exploration is to go there.

There are people in laboratory who started out as traditional astronomers. That was the origin of the lab. Kuiper was a traditional astronomer. Before there was any space program that was the only way you could study the planets. In spite of that, Kuiper started the lab knowing that there would be exploration of the Moon, and wanted to position himself to take advantage of that, which worked out very well.

But we still do a lot of ground-based observing. Right now there are extra-solar planets, although there’s a lot of desire to move that into space and do that better. Another thing that’s been an important part of the lab has been the study of near-Earth asteroids. Tom Gehrels, who’s been here since Kuiper, started years ago his Spacewatch program, looking for threatening near-Earth asteroids. Right now there’s his Spacewatch program and the Catalina Sky Survey, both within this lab, doing that job, as well as other agencies. 

There’s still a fair amount of asteroid study that’s ground-based. I think the lab’s got a pretty good mix. If you decide you really need to study things through a telescope, telescopes are available, facilities are available. Bob Brown, before he got completely consumed by the Cassini mission, did a lot of ground-based observing in the outer solar system. So I think we have a pretty well-balanced program.

Humberto Campins

It is clear that there is much science that cannot be done from the ground. There is very important science that can only be done from the ground. It’s very complimentary. The spacecraft bring the resources that you cannot get otherwise. The budgets of spacecraft missions are considerably larger, and you can get expertise, and you can develop a laboratory facility that you wouldn’t be able to develop otherwise. That was a logical shift for the Lunar Lab, which has been very good for its reputation. I think it plays very nicely with the astronomy and telescope expertise. I’d say that this is one of the great successes of the Lunar Lab.