ESA have announced that a mission to Jupiter’s moons will be the first Large-class mission in the Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 programme. It will launch in 2022 and arrive at Jupiter in 2030.
JUICE (JUpter ICy moons Explorer; it’s yet another acronym) will be a great mission, but it comes at the expense of two other proposals that I discuss in New Eyes on the Universe. One, called NGO (New Gravitational wave Observatory) would hunt for gravitational waves. The other, called ATHENA (Advanced Telescope for High-Energy Astrophysics), would have been a space-based X-ray observatory.
Both NGO and ATHENA were replacement missions for earlier proposals that didn’t proceed: LISA in the case of space-based gravitational wave observatories, and IXO (which was itself a merging of the XEUS and Constellation-X projects) in the case of space-based X-ray observatories.
It was a tortuous journey to get to NGO and ATHENA; given that they’ve missed this first chance of a launch makes me wonder when – if ever – they’ll launch.
The main lesson I learned in writing New Eyes on the Universe is that physical scientists love acronyms, the more tortured the better. Anyone know what CANGAROO stands for? Or EDELWEISS? Or EURECA?
Perhaps it’s inevitable that scientists try to come up with ‘catchy’ acronyms for their grant proposals, but to my mind they’re acting like parents don’t give sufficient thought when naming their offspring. (If your surname is Dwyer, don’t call your daughter Barb. If your surname is King, don’t call your son Lee.) Occasionally an observatory is rescued from the blandness of an acronym. The Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) was renamed as the result of a public competition held by NASA; it’s now known as Fermi. Much better.
You now have the chance to do a similar service for another observatory. The Very Large Array (VLA) has been upgraded, and the NRAO are looking for a name for the vastly improved facility. Visit Name the Array, and you have the chance to give this wonderful observatory an imaginative and memorable name.
The Very Large Array - it's about to be renamed
My choice? Reber telescope. (And that’s in honour of Grote Reber. It doesn’t stand for Really Exceptionally Big and Extraordinary Radio telescope…)