Launch of the largest European astronomical network

PICTURE: The entire arc of the Milky Way, full of gas and dust, clusters of stars and emission nebulae, is the bright background of a very large telescope (VLT) operated by ESO. view more

Credit: M. Claro / ESO.

So far, Europe has had two large collaborative networks for terrestrial astronomy, one in the domain of optical wavelengths and the other in the domain of radio waves. OPTICON and RadioNet have now teamed up to create Europe’s largest network of terrestrial astronomical collaborations. The project, launched with 15m euros in funding under the H2020 program, aims to harmonize methods and tools for observing and providing access to a wider range of astronomical objects.

As our knowledge of the Universe progresses, astronomers increasingly need a series of complementary techniques to analyze and understand astronomical phenomena. As a result, the European Union has decided to bring together the optical and radio networks OPTICON and RadioNet, which have successfully served their communities over the past twenty years.

With 15 million euros from the European Commission’s H2020 program, the European Astronomical Community will now benefit from the formation of Europe’s largest land-based astronomical network: OPTICON-RadioNet PILOT (ORP), which brings together about twenty telescopes and telescope arrays.

The ORP network is intended to harmonize observation methods and tools for terrestrial optical and radio astronomical instruments, and provides researchers with access to a wider range of objects, building on the success and experience of the OPTICON and RadioNet networks.

The new program will make it easier for the astronomical community to access this infrastructure, as well as provide training for new generations of astronomers.

According to the management team, “it is very exciting to have the opportunity to further develop European integration in astronomy and to develop new scientific opportunities for astronomy research across Europe and around the world. »

The ORP will particularly encourage the development of a flourishing field of what is known as multi-messenger astronomy, which uses a wide range of wavelengths, as well as gravitational waves, cosmic rays, and neutrinos. Removing barriers between communities by harmonizing observation protocols and methods of analysis in the optical and radio domains will allow astronomers to work better together when observing and tracking transient and changing astronomical events.

Astronomers from 15 European countries, Australia and South Africa, as well as from 37 institutions, have already joined the ORP consortium. It will be coordinated by the French Center de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), which runs and contributes several optical and radio telescopes, the University of Cambridge (UK) and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (Germany).

In Belgium, the network includes the Institute of Astronomy at KU Leuven in charge of developing new instruments for the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI, Chile) and coordinating one of the seven European VLTI expert centers. VLTI is the main European observatory at the head of astronomical research.

With new funding from the ORP, the Institute of Astronomy will develop a new way of observing VLTI dedicated to exoplanet research, support the activities of the VLTI network of expert centers and bring together the entire VLTI community in Leuven in 2023. “We are happy to be part of this new ORP network and to contribute to the development of astronomical research and the community in Europe,” says Denis Defrère, associate professor at the Institute of Astronomy.

The management team includes Jean-Gabriel Cuby, ORP project coordinator at the National Institute of Earth Sciences and Astronomy CNRS, and Gerry Gilmore, professor at the University of Cambridge (UK) and Anton Zensus, director of the Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (Germany). , as scientific coordinators of the ORP for OPTICON and RadioNet.

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