With the goal of identifying the top priorities of science, space exploration, and future missions, the National Academies have launched a Decadal Survey for Solar and Space Physics (or heliophysics) for the decade beginning in 2024, and appointed Professor Tuija Pulkkinen, Ph.D., to its steering committee.
The Decadal Survey will present a strategy of basic and applied research to advance scientific understanding of the Sun, Sun-Earth connections, and the origins of space weather, as well as the Sun’s interactions with other bodies in the solar system, the interplanetary medium, and the interstellar medium. They will provide a strategic gameplan for the years spanning from 2024 to 2033, while assessing the health and vitality of the profession.
“It is an honor to be selected by the National Academies for this important work,” said Pulkkinen, who chairs the U-M Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering. “Personally for me, the position offers a top-level view to the NASA, NOAA, and NSF space science programs. Working together with an amazing group of scientists around the nation, I look forward to diving into the over 500 individual science ideas received from the community and morphing that to an ambitious plan for heliophysics research and space weather science for the next decade.”
Working with study panels, informal working groups, and input from the solar and space physics community, the Survey Committee will generate recommendations to advance and expand the frontiers of solar and space physics in the current decade and lay the groundwork for continued advances in future decades.
“Heliophysics as a field is at a turning point, as new space technologies allow for unprecedented science from space, but at the same time create problems, for example, in the form of increasing space debris problem,” said Pulkkinen. Both scientific and commercial satellites operate in outer space, but the debris problem is worst at low altitudes, where most commercial satellites reside. “Thus, we can do more research, and we need the research to solve the problems that the use of the new technologies creates.”
Scientific Leadership and Research
The Survey Committee will address many areas of scientific leadership and research, as well as potential applications for science and future mission operations. The committee will produce a report that’s four-fold, addressing areas that have been historically covered in the Decadal Survey while also exploring new frontiers.
First, they will give an overview of the current state of solar and space physics sciences and applications, including heliophysics topics and new and emerging frontiers where advances are possible. This overview will cover the space weather pipeline from research to applications to operations, including the research-application-operation loop that strengthens predictive work and forecasting.
Second, they will identify what science goals hold the highest priority for work in the coming decade. They’ll identify areas where scientists can make measurable progress on these goals and recommend opportunities to improve scientific growth in the future. They’ll also point out areas that call for an interdisciplinary or systems approach.
Third, they will develop an ambitious research strategy to address the top science goals, while providing a realistic approach. This will include the combination of ground- and space-based investigations, the use of data and computing infrastructure, assessments for costs, risks, and technical operations, and decision-guiding principles that can accommodate unexpected changes. Their work will take into consideration the international landscape, collaborations between agencies, public-private relationships, and innovative partnerships.
Finally, the Survey Committee will assess the state of the profession, addressing workforce needs, paths to entry, and employee retention. They will evaluate the health and vitality of the community working in solar and space physics and its subfields, and recommend best practices for the community going forward.
“For the future, it is really important that we consider diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion and find ways to broaden the researcher base in our field,” Pulkkinen notes.
“The Decadal Survey is the main community consensus planning process that will dictate the direction and priorities for the field for the next ten years, so it is imperative to have good leadership on the Steering Committee. Prof. Pulkkinen is one of the top solar and space physicists in the world and has extensive leadership in developing consensus around bold, innovative, and daring plans,” said Mark Moldwin, executive director of the Michigan Space Grant Consortium and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering and Applied Physics. “I am excited to see that one of the charges of the Decadal is to assess the state of health of the profession and to recommend best practices to ensure a healthy, vital, diverse, equitable, and inclusive community.”
For more information about the Decadal Survey, visit: https://www.nationalacademies.org/our-work/decadal-survey-for-solar-and-space-physics-heliophysics-2024-2033