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To answer them, the plan calls for new facilities including the Einstein Telescope, a gravitational wave detector to be built in a network of underground tunnels; antennas installed on the radio-quiet far side of the Moon; and a fleet of orbiting telescopes to probe exoplanet atmospheres.
But some are unhappy with what the draft plan left out—particularly in radio and gamma ray astronomy, as well as the study of high-energy particles from space.
“Something went wrong,” says Leonid Gurvits, a radio astronomer at the Delft University of Technology.
In its first incarnation, Astronet aimed for something similarly comprehensive, producing a science vision in 2007 and the following year, a road map of facilities and missions.
Astronet was set up under the auspices of the European Union in 2005 with a 4-year budget of €2.
But the group continued with support of a few tens of thousands of euros per year from funding bodies in eight nations plus the European Southern Observatory (ESO).
The Astronet board, made up of funding agency representatives, decided this time to produce “something more precise, direct, and to the point,” says board chair Colin Vincent of the United Kingdom’s Science and Technology Facilities Council.
The new report, he says, aimed to answer, “What are the science questions, where are we now, and what do we need to progress over the next 20 years?”.
Astronet formed panels of as many as 12 researchers in each of five fields, ranging from the origin and evolution of the universe to understanding the Solar System and conditions for life.
The plan was to “throw them out there and see what the community makes of them,” Vincent says.
Although Astronet tried to get the word out to astronomers across Europe, some complained they only heard about the draft reports 1 month or less before the deadline for comments.
Most people didn’t know about it,” says radio astronomer Heino Falcke of Radboud University.
According to Andreas Haungs of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, who heads the Astroparticle Physics European Consortium, the drafts don’t sufficiently credit the work done by astronomers using high-energy gamma rays, neutrinos, or gravitational waves.
Gerry Gilmore of the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, head of the OPTICON network of optical and infrared astronomers, counters that the Astronet reports are “discussion documents, the start of a conversation.
He says the subject panels are revising their drafts, and in June, the European Astronomical Society will hold an open meeting to discuss those revisions, with further iterations continuing over the summer.
Linda Tacconi of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, who is leading Voyage 2050, ESA’s latest science planning process, says it has been slowed by COVID-19.
“Therefore, Voyage 2050 could not be included in the Astronet report,” she says.
That leaves Astronet to bring some order to the disconnected groups of astronomers who aren’t covered by those two agencies.