The cooperation networks OPTICON and RadioNet have joined forces to form Europe’s largest cooperation network for terrestrial astronomy. The project, funded with 15 million euros under the Horizon 2020 program, aims to harmonize observation methods and tools and enable access to a wide range of astronomical infrastructures.
As knowledge of the universe advances, astronomers increasingly need a range of complementary techniques to analyze and understand astronomical phenomena. For this reason, the European Union has decided to merge the optical network OPTICON and the radio network RadioNet, which have successfully served their respective research communities for the past twenty years. The National Center for Scientific Research in France (CNRS) will coordinate the project together with the University of Cambridge and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy.
With 15 million euros in funding from the Horizon 2020 program, the European astronomical community is now benefiting from the creation of the largest terrestrial astronomy network in Europe: the OPTICON-RadioNet PILOT (ORP), which brings together around twenty telescopes and telescope arrays.
The ORP network aims to harmonize observation methods and tools for terrestrial optical and radio telescopes and provide researchers with access to a wider range of facilities, building on the success and experience of the OPTICON and RadioNet networks. The new program will facilitate access to these infrastructures for the astronomical community and enable the training of new generations of astronomers.
In particular, the ORP will promote the development of the booming field of so-called multimessenger astronomy, which uses a wide range of wavelengths in addition to gravitational waves, cosmic rays and neutrinos. The removal of barriers between communities through the harmonization of observation protocols and analysis methods in the optical and radio fields will enable astronomers to better collaborate in the observation and monitoring of transient and variable astronomical events.
Astronomers from 15 European countries, Australia and South Africa as well as from 37 institutions have already joined the ORP consortium. These include two institutes of the Max Planck Society (MPG), the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) in Bonn with its 100m radio telescope in Effelsberg and the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) in Garching near Munich. The MPG will be responsible for the coordination and management of the entire radio astronomical community as well as for the coordination of measures to preserve the sky for astronomical observations against man-made disturbances.
The 100m radio telescope will be freely accessible to European users, both as a single telescope and in combination with other telescopes within the European VLBI network. The MPG will also play a crucial role in developing a strategic vision for astronomical research infrastructures in Europe, including developing a funding model for transnational access to European telescopes.