SPICA will be proposed as the next generation far-infrared space mission.
After the success of the Herschel Space Observatory, particularly from the huge leaps in knowledge gained from the PACS and SPIRE spectroscopic observations, the next space mission should seek to far surpass the Herschel capabilities and offer significant advancements that will drive astronomical research in a future landscape already being shaped by next generation facilities such as JWST and ALMA. SPICA will provide such advancements, performing large-scale far-infrared spectroscopic mapping surveys of a large range and quantity of astronomical sources from protoplanetary discs and exoplanets to the interstellar medium of nearby galaxies and the higher redshift Universe. The SAFARI instrument, a far-infrared imaging FTS-spectrometer, is designed to cover the 34 to 210 micron waveband at unprecedented resolution using the cryogenically cooled (< 6 K) ~3.2 m space telescope. See the SPICA/SAFARI factsheet below.
Given my previous research in studying the interplay between star formation and chemical evolution in nearby galaxies, and my recent enjoyment in using Herschel FIR spectroscopy to investigate the physical characteristics of the interstellar gas in the star-forming disc of NGC 891 (and also learning from other similar analyses of very nearby galaxies), I’m of course very excited by the ongoing development and future research opportunities of the SAFARI instrument for SPICA. In the context of the ISM of very nearby galaxies, having homogeneous spectroscopy with higher spatial and spectral resolution and greater spatial coverage for larger samples will offer us the chance to move beyond individual resolved studies of the physical conditions in the ISM and take a more statistical approach. However, this is just one small part of the science case for the SPICA proposal; there are many interesting things we can learn with such a facility. You can see a full range of the science discussed at the recent SPICA Science Workshop by checking out the talk slides attached to the online programme.
Finally, I’d just like to mention that I was very grateful for the opportunity to speak about my recent work on NGC 891, using this galaxy to highlight the present difficulties and limitations in using FIR fine-structure lines to probe the gas properties.
Grab a pdf copy of the factsheet by clicking the image.