Astroparticle physics in Europe gets a new roadmap

After publishing its first strategy plan in 2008, the AStroParticle European Research Area (ASPERA) – a network of European national funding agencies responsible for astroparticle physics – has just published an update. The new document provides an overview of the activities of the astroparticle physics community, makes recommendations for future projects and emphasizes the role of networking and sharing among the funding agencies.


The new strategies for Astroparticle Physics (ApP) – the research field at the intersection of astrophysics, particle physics and cosmology – were discussed at a meeting held in Paris on 21 and 22 November, when a new roadmap was presented to the community. “An update of the strategic plan published in 2008 was needed because of the significant progress made in recent years,” explains Arnaud Marsollier, ASPERA press officer. “In this new roadmap, ASPERA gives an updated overview of ApP Projects and proposes new recommendations after having conducted a review of the whole timescale.” This was a welcome update for the ApP European funding agencies of ASPERA and the Astroparticle Physics European Coordination (ApPEC).

“The currently planned projects have been divided into three main categories,” says Arnaud Marsollier, “according to their size and current status, as well as the expected date of construction. You can look at these categories as the stages of a rocket: the current experiments and near-future upgrades, the mid-term large infrastructures that will begin construction by the middle of the decade, and the longer-term large projects that also require a global approach.”

The first category comprises the ongoing projects on gravitational waves, dark matter searches, neutrino property measurements, underground laboratory upgrades, and space-based detectors. These medium-scale projects are strongly supported by ASPERA, which encourages their development. The second category includes large-scale projects that expect to deliver their first results in the coming decade. Three high-energy projects and one low-energy neutrino project fall into this category, including the Cherenkov Telescope Array (see box), LAGUNA, KM3NeT, and a Pierre Auger Observatory-like project for the Northern Hemisphere. The ASPERA Roadmap encourages the research and development for these experiments.

A third category is related to longer-timescale projects, mainly in the dark energy and gravitational wave domains, such the Einstein Telescope (ET) and the space-bound LISA project. “These ambitious projects will certainly boost the science of astroparticles, but they need time, R&D, funds and more partners in order to see the light,” comments Arnaud Marsollier. “And in the case of gravitational waves, upgrades and data taking at current experiments must be completed before ET can go ahead.”

Given the rapid progress in ApP, the ASPERA roadmap will be a useful tool for decision makers in addition to increasing coordination and networking among all the projects on a global scale.

Brochure version of the roadmap here, and the 2011 roadmap – full version here.

The Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA)

The most advanced large-scale project categorised by the roadmap is the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA), which is currently in the preparation and prototyping phase. CTA is an initiative to build the next generation ground-based, very high-energy gamma-ray observatory, and will take over current observatories such as H.E.S.S. in Namibia, MAGIC in the Canary Islands and VERITAS in the United-States. Such telescope arrays use particle physics technology to look at particle showers that are generated in the atmosphere by gamma-rays coming from cosmic sources. CTA is clearly the worldwide priority project in the TeV gamma-ray astrophysics area. As currently envisioned, CTA will consist of a southern hemisphere array, aimed at observing galactic sources, and a northern hemisphere array, optimised for extragalactic observations. CTA’s southern array could have as many as 100 telescopes. Some 800 scientists from 25 countries around the world have already joined forces to build it, and construction is expected to start by 2014.


by Fabio Capello