While most of the world was focused on that little soccer tournament in South Africa, astrophysicists were involved with their own form of competition last week. As they do every year, experts from around the globe gathered to conduct the Chandra Peer Review process. This is the way that astronomers figure out what targets Chandra will observe over the course of the next year. Most major telescopes – such as Hubble and Spitzer -- have a similar process. And as they say about democracy, it's not a perfect system but it’s better than just about any other.
How does it work? In a nutshell, scientists from around the globe submit proposals back in March, making a case why it’s worth spending Chandra time observing a particular object. These proposals are not just half-hearted suggestions. Rather, they are well-researched, technical and scientific arguments. They can be a lot of work for the scientists who write them.
These proposals are gathered by the Chandra Director's Office here in Cambridge, Mass., and then are hashed out among panels of experts in a three-day meeting every June. These Peer Review meetings are definitely not for the faint-hearted. Rather, the scientists on these panels and the staff that support their efforts are hard at work from morning to night. While their efforts might not be recognized in a published paper or press release, the work of the panels are absolutely crucial to making Chandra such a successful mission.
As for that other contest, we're putting our (Monopoly) money on the Netherlands. Or maybe Brazil...
Megan Watzke, CXC