A report by the National Research Council has identified the highest-priority research activities that will "set the nation firmly on the path to answering profound questions about the cosmos," a U.S. National Academy of Sciences release said Friday.
The report -- the council's sixth 10-year survey -- identifies space- and ground-based research activities in three categories: large, midsize, and small.
At the top of the plan's recommended large space activities -- those with a price tag of $1 billion or more -- is the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, which could settle fundamental questions about the nature of dark energy, determine the likelihood of other Earth-like planets and survey our galaxy and others.
For large-scale, ground-based research initiatives that exceed $135 million, the report's first priority is the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, a wide-field optical survey telescope that would observe more than half the sky every four nights, probing diverse areas of study such as dark energy and supernovae.
"Powerful new ways to observe the universe and bold ideas to understand it have created scientific opportunities without precedent," Stanford professor Roger Blandford, chair of the committee that wrote the report, said.
"The program of research that we recommend will optimize the science return for future ground-based projects and space missions in a time of constrained budgets and limited resources," he said.