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European astronomers set out 20-year vision

By Redazione

European scientists have unveiled their vision for European astronomy over the next two decades. ‘A science vision for European astronomy’ was drawn up by the EU-funded ASTRONET project, which
brings together 17 funding agencies from across Europe with the goal of consolidating Europe’s position as a world leader in astronomy.

‘This is a great opportunity to help create a vibrant, long-term future for astronomy and science,’ said Leiden Observatory’s Tim de Zeeuw, who co-led the two year long process of developing
the vision document.

‘European astronomy is world leading,’ added Professor Keith Mason, CEO of the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council. ‘To maintain that position we need an agreed pan-European
programme that defines objectives and the required facilities. Under the ASTRONET framework we are able to do just this and select the best programme for the next two decades of research.’

European astronomers have already played key roles in a number of important breakthroughs, including the first detection of a planet around another star, the successful landing on Titan and the
proof that a massive black hole exists at the centre of our own galaxy.

The vision sets out four key questions that European astronomy should seek to answer:

– Do we understand the extremes of the universe?
– How do galaxies form and evolve?
– What is the origin and evolution of stars and planets?
– How do we fit in?

The document also identifies the major new technologies and facilities that will be needed to address these issues. These include new developments in theory and numerical simulations, high
performance computing resources, efficient astronomical data archiving and the European Virtual Observatory.

The next step for the ASTRONET consortium is to turn the vision into a roadmap. ‘The ASTRONET Science Vision maps out what are considered to be the most important questions facing astronomers.
The Roadmap is now considering the tools we need to answer these,’ said Professor Mike Bode of Liverpool John Moores University, who will head up the group responsible for drawing up the
roadmap. ‘We are looking in detail at facilities on the ground and in space, operating across the whole electromagnetic spectrum, plus for example those which detect exotic particles and search
for gravitational waves.

‘Our work also encompasses vital resources in the areas of theory and computing, and laboratory studies. Last but not least, the Roadmap is also addressing enhancing the wider impact of
astronomy on science education and the public understanding of science in general.’

As part of the project’s consultation process, the Roadmap will be presented to the wider scientific community at a symposium in Liverpool in June 2008.

EU support for ASTRONET comes from the Sixth Framework Programme’s ‘Support for the coordination of activities’ programme. As well as coordinating European astronomy research programmes, the
project partners are working together to develop pan-European programmes in the domains of outreach, training, mobility and evaluation procedures.

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