Astroparticle physics: the new ASPERA-2 programme

On 7 July the ASPERA-2 programme funded by the European Commission was officially launched in Hamburg with the goal of creating a sustainable structure for the coordination of astroparticle physics in Europe. CERN, which is a participant in the programme, could play an important role in this respect.

Artist’s impression of the CTA (Cherenkov Telescope Array). The CTA is one of the "Magnificent Seven", the seven large astroparticle physics infrastructures planned for the coming years. It is the next-generation facility destined to succeed the H.E.S.S. telescope in Namibia and the MAGIC telescope in the Canary Islands. (Credit ASPERA/G.Toma/A.Saftoiu).

Following the success of ASPERA-1, the European network for astroparticle physics (see box), funding agency representatives gathered in Hamburg on 7 July 2009 for the official launch of ASPERA-2, a new three-year programme funded by the European Commission.

Today the strategic roles of ASPERA (which stands for AStroParticle ERAnet) and ApPEC (Astroparticle Physics European Coordination) are well established and recognised by the European physics community and institutions. The goal of ASPERA-2 is to strengthen European collaboration and coordination in the astroparticle physics field. The very first European common call for R&D in astroparticle physics has been launched, and ASPERA-2 will continue on the same lines with a series of new activities and joint calls and the establishment of common procedures.

The ASPERA network will also set up a technology transfer programme and will study possible synergies between astroparticle physics and environmental sciences. ASPERA-2 also aims to extend the ASPERA network to all European countries with a research programme in the field of astroparticle physics. ASPERA-2 already comprises the funding agencies of 17 countries, as well as CERN.

Did you know?

Astroparticle physics is almost a century old. In 1912, Victor Hess discovered the existence of cosmic rays, which are made up of particles from Space, hence the name "astroparticle". However, it is only in recent years, thanks to the ASPERA-1 project, that the goals of this area of physics have been defined and summarised in seven fundamental questions: What is the Universe made of? Do protons have a finite lifetime? What is the origin of high-energy cosmic rays?, etc. Created in 2006, the ASPERA network, which comprises 17 agencies from 12 different European countries, has published a strategic document ("Roadmap") defining astroparticle physics research needs and strategy for the next two decades, in particular seven large infrastructures ("Magnificent Seven") designed to answer the seven fundamental questions.

For many years CERN has been a natural centre for exchanges between astroparticle physicists, who are often former particle physicists. In fact, the Convention that established the Organization in 1954 clearly states that cosmic rays are part of its research programme. CERN’s role in this area has been strengthened in recent years by the introduction of the status of "recognised experiment", which has been granted to several astroparticle physics experiments.

This May, at the Workshop on New Opportunities in the Physics Landscape at CERN, representatives of the "Magnificent Seven", the seven large astroparticle physics infrastructures planned for the future, expressed the desire to strengthen relations with CERN. ASPERA-2 opens up an essential avenue for the future and institutionalisation of astroparticle physics in Europe, in which it seems evident that CERN could play an important role, for example through a reinforced status for recognised experiments, structural support, contribution to the preparation and construction of tomorrow’s large infrastructures, development of joint R&D programmes or the creation of a dedicated astroparticle physics group. There is no shortage of ideas, and ASPERA will provide a framework for strengthened discussions between CERN and the funding agencies on these and other issues over the next three years.

More information on the ASPERA website and in this previous Bulletin article