Astronet and the present and future of science in La Palma

Astronomy has entered the era of big science, big data. Current and future major facilities will provide astronomical data at never-before-seen speeds across the entire electromagnetic spectrum.

The Astronet 2022-2035 Science and Infrastructure Vision Plan was recently approved and published. The Astronet Roadmap, a network of European funding infrastructures and organizations working with the scientific community to provide a strategic planning and coordination mechanism for all European astronomy, provides an overview of the state of European astronomy. , as well as recommendations for funding agencies for the next decade, based on the priorities of the European scientific community.

The Astronet Science Vision and Infrastructure Roadmap 2022-2035 highlights three terrestrial infrastructure projects as equally important priorities that require major financing decisions. Two of them (CTA, EST) have unique capabilities and are strongly supported by their respective communities, while the third (Wide Field Spectroscopic Facility for an 8-10 meter telescope class) is a more general facility with applications ranging from planetary systems to cosmology.

One of them is the European Solar Telescope (EST), a 4-meter solar telescope that will be built on the island of La Palma at the Roque de los Muchax Observatory, next to the existing Solar Tower, in the place known as Fuente Nueva. . Its first light is expected in 2030.

EST will greatly increase our understanding of the solar magnetic field and its relationship to the heliosphere and Earth. Completing and scientifically exploiting the project in collaboration with US-based DKIST is a priority. DKIST is short for Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, and it is a solar telescope located atop Haleakalā volcano, on Maui, Hawaii. It is the world’s largest current solar telescope, with a primary mirror 4 meters in diameter, and is designed to study the dynamics of the Sun and its impact on Earth.

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The largest and most advanced solar telescope in the world

EST will be the world’s largest and most advanced solar telescope, with unprecedented resolution for observing small-scale solar structures, allowing for a better understanding of the physical and magnetic processes that drive solar activity.

Another recommendation refers to the construction of a multi-purpose, wide-field, high-multipity spectroscopic facility for the 8-10m class telescope. This facility will enable a wide range of scientific investigations and help capitalize on other large investments by providing monitoring capabilities to facilities such as JWST, VRO and Euclid. An installation of this type can be installed on the island of La Palma.

The spectroscopy facility will also be important to studies of galaxies and cosmology, allowing precise measurements of the distribution of matter in the universe and providing information on the evolution of the universe.

The third priority project is the Cherenkov Gamma-Ray Telescope (CTA), which will be a network of telescopes located at two locations in both hemispheres to detect high-energy gamma rays from black holes and other extreme phenomena in the universe. .

Gamma ray astronomy

The CTA is expected to be the first large network of observatories of its kind and will lead to significant advances in our understanding of the origins and production of non-thermal particles in the universe. These telescopes will be the first ground-based gamma-ray observatory and the world’s largest instrument for gamma-ray astronomy. It will detect high-energy radiation from the universe with unprecedented precision and sensitivity better than any current instrument, providing new insights into the universe’s most extreme events.

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Its construction has already begun on the island of La Palma, where the network’s prototype is installed, at the Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory, and the platforms that will house CTA Norte’s three new giant telescopes are currently being built. Later, 9 medium-sized Cherenkov telescopes will be installed, for a total of 13 telescopes.

The Strategic Plan highlights that, as the first large-scale observatory targeting these energies, CTAO is expected to advance our understanding of the origins and production of non-thermal particles in the universe.

Project CTA is an international collaboration under construction in two locations; One is in the Northern Hemisphere, on the island of La Palma, and the “other part” of the observatory is in the Southern Hemisphere, in Chile.

While the Southern Hemisphere array will span the medium to high energy range of CTAO, optimized for gamma energies between 150 GeV (Gigaelectronvolt) and 300 TeV (Teaelectronvolt), the Northern Hemisphere array will focus on the low and medium energy ranges, from 20 GeV to 5 TeV, which means a major in extragalactic physics. For this reason, the Northern Hemisphere site will not house small telescopes designed to capture the highest energy gamma rays. For the first phase of construction, an approved “alpha formation,” the site is slated to house four large telescopes to capture the low-energy sensitivity of CTAO and nine medium-sized telescopes to cover the primary energy band of CTAO. It is currently being built in the lower part of the observatory along with workshops and accommodation.

The establishment of the CTA will bring economic and social benefits to La Palma Island, as it is expected to create job opportunities in areas such as construction, operation and maintenance of facilities, as well as in scientific and technological research, in addition to the large initial investment for its construction and subsequent maintenance and operation.

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With these two large European scientific infrastructures, La Palma continues to establish itself as a place where high-quality science and technology is implemented and an attractive place for the installation of small and large scientific infrastructures.

Aileen Morales

"Beer nerd. Food fanatic. Alcohol scholar. Tv practitioner. Writer. Troublemaker. Falls down a lot."

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