Group Chair: Prof. Michel Fich, University of Waterloo
The Far Infrared Discipline Working Group (FIRDWG) has been given the task of investigating the future needs and opportunities for Canadian astronomers to participate in space missions with astronomical instruments working the far infrared (FIR, also called the submillimetre or terahertz) part of the electromagnetic spectrum. It is at these wavelengths where light is emitted by the processes that create most objects in the Universe. This is the part of the spectrum where the process of the formation of planets, stars, and galaxies "shines" the brightest.
The Earth's atmosphere is opaque to most FIR wavelengths and thus the study of these formation processes is very limited from the surface of the Earth. Canada has many astronomers working on the soon-to-be-launched Herschel Space Observatory that will be the first large FIR telescope in space. Herschel is expected to last between three and five years and will provide a wealth of scientific data to address many different problems in astronomy.
The FIRDWG's task is to plan for what the Canadian astronomical community will do in the far infrared after the Herschel mission is complete. The starting point for this planning is to look at what astronomer's scientific goals will be in five years. Since it is not known what will be learned with Herschel this exercise is not straight-forward and requires some "best-guesses". Another factor is the science that will be done with ALMA, a large millimeter interferometer under construction in Chile that will also have a tremendous capability at the longest wavelength end of the far infrared.
In this report we briefly list, and in a few cases summarize, some of the principle scientific topics that we expect will not be well understood, even after studies with Herschel and ALMA. These questions span scales from the relatively nearby edges of our own Solar System, to more distant star and planet forming regions in our Milky Way galaxy, to the most distant signs of the first galaxies forming when the Universe began.
We then look at what expertise and abilities we have within Canada to draw upon for building future far infrared instruments. Every year there are new ideas proposed for future far infrared missions. We summarize the current set of missions that could be useful for various parts of our science program. In order to participate in these missions Canada will need to contribute appropriate cutting-edge technology, most of which currently needs further development before being deployed in space. We provide a list of a number of technologies that Canada may be able to provide, if the development resources are available. Finally we provide a roadmap – a timeline of actions to be carried out over the next few years that will lead to Canadian participation in future far infrared missions in space.