Astronomy has entered an era of exciting discoveries that provide answers to fundamental questions. We have already discovered more than 150 extrasolar planets; during the next two decades, we will likely discover Earth-like planets and will search for signatures of life in their atmospheres. We are beginning to understand the processes that gave birth to our Universe and shaped its large-scale structures, and we are poised to be able to follow these processes throughout the life of the universe. We also progressively understand the relationships between galaxies and their central black holes, and we are beginning to witness the ultra-energetic phenomena that take place near black holes and compact objects. We are exploring other worlds in our Solar Systems such as Mercury, Mars, or Titan. At the heart of these discoveries is the development of large research infrastructures and their associated technologies: ground-based observatories, space missions, “virtual observatories” for data mining, and large-scale computing facilities.
Given the scale and expected construction and operation cost of the new large infrastructures, these facilities of the next 20 years will probably be unique on a global scale. It is therefore mandatory that the choice of these facilities and their associated development plans be made on a consensual basis among all participants. To reach this level of consensus, one needs first a global roadmap for European astronomy, driven by scientific priorities and covering all wavelengths and messengers, taking into account the many complementarities of space and ground-based observatories. So far, strategic scientific and/programmatic planning exercises have been performed in some countries only. ASTRONET, which gathers the main national research organizations in Europe as well as the European Southern Observatory and the European Space Agency, will strive to produce such a European, long-term strategic planning process for astronomy, by:
producing a Science vision for European astronomy, benefiting from national reviews when they exist, inspiring others when they don’t,
proposing, as a result, an Infrastructure Roadmap of European astronomy, identifying key technologies that are on the critical path to success,
proposing targeted coordinated actions between ASTRONET participants, in particular evaluation procedures and specific research programs,
laying the foundations for a permanent mechanism of cooperation between European research agencies in the field of astronomy and astrophysics.
In order to build the « Science Vision » and the « Infrastructure Roadmap », ASTRONET strategy will be the following:
Establish a steering group.
Establish advisory expert panels on an European-wide basis.
Make the synthesis of the panels recommendations, establish a draft report.
Organize the community feedback through a web-based discussion Forum and an international Symposium.
Disseminate the final report and agree on the means to implement the recommendations.
ASTRONET project summary