What is the Universe made of? What are gravitational waves and dark matter? These fundamental questions are being studied by astroparticle physics, a field whose time has come. It has been described as the point where particle physics meets astrophysics – or where the infinitely small meets the infinitely large. This has been an emerging field for the last ten years with the potential for some thrilling discoveries. From laboratories beneath the sea, deep underground, in the middle of remote deserts or out in space, scientists are taking on new challenges, with Europe at the forefront. Over the next few years very large scientific instruments will be developed in order to detect some of the most elusive particles in existence, and uncover the mysteries of our Universe.
European agencies from 12 countries, joined together within the AStroParticle ERAnet (ASPERA) European network, decided for the first time to combine their efforts to put together the policy for this field. Astroparticle physicists met in Amsterdam at the end of September to compare detailed plans for European future large infrastructures for the first time since publication of their European roadmap in June. Agencies from the United States and China were also represented with a view to discuss world convergence, and Romania announced its desire to join the ASPERA network.
|ASPERA attempts to answer the mystery of dark matter.
The road map was intended to answer questions on a number of major decisions which need to be taken, including: how can astroparticle physics be coordinated at the European level and what will the large European infrastructures of the future be? But, most importantly of all, which questions about the Universe should the scientists attempt to solve? The process was coordinated by a group of European and non-European experts chaired by Dr Christian Spiering from Deutsches Elektronen Synchrotron, Germany.
The coordinator of ASPERA, Professor Stavros Katsanevas from CNRS (the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), France, said ‘An important milestone will be the elaboration of a final European roadmap associated with a detailed census of the existing budget and human resources available in the participating agencies. The enthusiasm with which the scientific community and the funding agencies embraced the process made me confident of the outcome’.
The European Commission already supports plans for major projects such as KM3NeT, which is intended as a large undersea neutrino telescope that will operate beneath the Mediterranean. The EC also recently announced its support for LAGUNA (Large Apparatus studying Grand Unification and Neutrino Astrophysics), a very large detector for proton decay and neutrino astronomy and the Einstein Telescope, the next generation of gravitational wave antenna. A recommendation was also made to engage the design studies for the Cherenkov Telescope Array, a new generation of European observatory for high-energy gamma rays and the EURECA (European Underground Rare Event Calorimeter Array) detector for the cryogenic research of dark matter.