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Developing a new vision for European astronomy

A British astronomer is to lead a Pan-European project to develop a new ‘roadmap to the stars’.

Michael Bode, Professor of Astrophysics at Liverpool John Moores University, has been charged with the vital task of developing the new 'roadmap’, which will act as the blue print for the development of astronomy in Europe over the next 20 years. The roadmap will detail the infrastructure needed to deliver European astronomy’s science vision – being agreed at a conference in Poitiers now (23-25th January 2007) hosted and organised by ASTRONET, a consortium of eleven European Science Agencies.

Big questions remain in our understanding of the Universe, and ASTRONET has divided these challenges into four scientific areas:

- Do we understand the extremes of the Universe?
- How do galaxies form and evolve?
- How do stars and planets form?
- How do we fit in?
Answering these questions will require development of existing infrastructure as well as European wide investment in new facilities. Professor Bode and the team of leading European astronomers who will work with him will consider various possible facilities.

For example, on the ground they will be considering the case for building the largest radio and optical telescopes ever, plus new facilities for detecting exotic sub-atomic particles. In space they will be considering the most sophisticated space observatories yet developed, not only observing across the electromagnetic spectrum but also gravitational waves. They are also aware of the impact astronomy has in enthusing young people to study science and the inspirational role it can play.

The infrastructure roadmap is crucial to the success of Europe’s ASTRONET project, which is aiming to consolidate and reinforce the highly competitive position that European astronomy has attained at the beginning of the 21st century.

Commenting on the appointment, Professor Keith Mason, Chief Executive of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC), which represents the UK in the ASTRONET consortium, said:

“Professor Bode’s appointment reflects his outstanding contribution to astronomy over the last 25 years, both in the UK and internationally. He combines both the high levels of astronomical expertise, diplomacy and negotiating skills required to bring Europe's community of astronomers together to determine which programmes to back.

“Getting such a consensus will be hard work but it will be highly beneficial for the long-term health and competitiveness of European astronomy and space research. European astronomers have the opportunity to lead the way in mankind's exploration of the Universe over the coming decades."

ASTRONET has an extensive brief covering all astrophysical objects from the Sun and Solar system to the global structure of the Universe, as well as every observing technique, in space and from the ground, and from radiation at any wavelength to astroparticles and gravitational waves.

Working on behalf of the eleven ASTRONET agencies and with the European astronomy community, Professor Bode is aiming to devise a priority list of space missions and ground-based facilities to be developed over the next two decades. He will report his recommendations in mid 2008.

The foundations are already in place for the astronomical roadmap as it is commonplace for European projects to be funded collaboratively by a variety of agencies. The European Southern Observatory and the European Space Agency are just two examples of such Europe-wide collaborations.

Professor Bode explained:

“Astronomy has entered an era of exciting discoveries that provide answers to fundamental questions. At the heart of our increasing understanding of the Universe is the development of large research facilities and new technologies, such as ground-based observatories, space missions, “virtual observatories”, and large-scale computing facilities.

“Given the scale and cost of these facilities, it is vital that scientists and key funding bodies across Europe reach a consensus, based on a defined scientific imperative, about which developments to invest in over the next 20 years. By gathering together the main national research organisations in Europe, as well as the European Southern Observatory and the European Space Agency, ASTRONET is striving to produce such a European, long-term strategic planning process for astronomy.”

Press enquiries:
Julia Maddock
PPARC Press Office
Tel 01793 442094
Professor Mike Bode
Liverpool John Moores University
Mobile 07968 422 360
Shonagh Wilkie
Direct line: 0151 231 3346
Mobile: 07968 422 508

Julia Maddock | alfa
Further information:

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