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On Wednesday, 5 October, the heads of the Cherenkov Telescope Array Observatory (CTAO), the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and the Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO) met at the headquarters of the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia (IAA-CSIC) in Granada, Spain to participate in the round table “El Universo que veremos” (“The Universe that we will see,” in English). Xavier Barcons (Director General of ESO), Philip Diamond (Director General of SKAO) and Wolfgang Wild (CTAO Project Manager) discussed the science, technology, impact and governance of these three major astronomical infrastructures, in a session moderated by Isabel Márquez (Deputy Director of the IAA-CSIC) and organized jointly between the IAA-CSIC and the CTAO. Held in tandem with the Big Science Business Forum (BSBF) conference that is being held this week in Granada, the event was the first time that these institutions, which will lead astrophysics in the coming decades, publicly assembled in Spain.

SKAO, ESO and CTAO will open new windows to the Universe across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio and optical waves to high-energy gamma rays, respectively. Building and managing the largest observatories on the planet involves great technological and scientific challenges that increasingly require international collaboration.

“It will be more and more common to combine many ranges of wavelengths to obtain a complete picture of an object or process in the Universe: multi-wavelength astronomy is the future, and it is what will allow us to fully understand these phenomena,” explained Wolfgang Wild during the round table.

Among the technological challenges, Wild and Barcons highlighted technical challenges, such as “moving a hundred-ton telescope in twenty seconds to any part of the sky” in the case of CTAO, or “getting 798 segments of one and a half meters to work as a single mirror” in the case of the ESO’s ELT (Extremely Large Telescope), the world’s largest optical telescope that is currently being built in Chile. Diamond, for his part, emphasized the challenges that a Big Data project like SKAO must face, such as the storage, processing and conversion of the immense volume of data that the Radio Observatory will generate.

Likewise, the speakers discussed the socio-economic impact and governance of these international infrastructures and agreed on the need to create sustainable, diverse and inclusive projects. Among other activities, Barcons and Diamond highlighted the use of solar energy: recently, ESO inaugurated a photovoltaic plant in Chile, and SKAO’s antennas will work with this type of energy in Australia and mostly in South Africa. On the other hand, Wild explained the environmental care that any construction requires, like the detailed environmental studies conducted prior to CTAO’s activities on the Spanish island of La Palma, which will be the site of the Observatory’s northern hemisphere array of telescopes. Furthermore, as active members of society, these three infrastructures understand the special importance of participating in the local community, by engaging and partnering with the people and businesses in the areas where they will operate.

“El Universo que veremos” was a unique opportunity to discuss multiple important aspects of the astronomical infrastructures of the present and the future. The successful collaboration of these three projects is an example of how international cooperation continues to strengthen and diversify science. There is no doubt that they will provide answers to many current scientific unknowns and even, as the speakers themselves pointed out, to questions that have not yet been raised.

Read IAA-CSIC press release on their website. 

Alba Fernández-Barral, CTAO Outreach, Education and Communication Officer.

The Cherenkov Telescope Array Observatory (CTAO) will be the leading very high-energy gamma-ray astronomical observatory for decades to come, and its scientific potential is extremely broad: ranging from understanding the role of particles relativistic cosmic to the search for dark matter. With more than sixty telescopes located in the northern and southern hemispheres (on the island of La Palma and in Chile), CTAO will be the first ground-based gamma-ray observatory and the most sensitive instrument in the world for the detection of high-energy radiation.

The Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía (IAA-CSIC) is an institute of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (Higher Council for Scientific Research, in English) located in Granada (Spain). The activities of the IAA-CSIC are related to research in the field of Astrophysics and the development of instrumentation for telescopes and space vehicles. Their research groups are actively involved in the CTA Project, as members of the Cherenkov Telescope Array Consortium (CTAC) and the Large-Sized Telescope (LST) Collaboration, as well as the SKA Project.

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) is an intergovernmental organization established in 1962 supported by 16 Member States, the host country Chile and strategic partners. ESO is a member of the CTAO gGmbH Council and hosts the CTAO Southern Array site in Chile. During the session, the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) project, which will operate from Chile, was discussed. Its objective is to observe the Universe in optical and infrared with greater detail even than that of the Hubble Space Telescope. Its 39-meter-diameter segmented mirror will allow the study of extrasolar planets and their atmospheres, planet-forming disks beyond our Solar System, dark energy and the formation of galaxies.

The Square Kilometer Array Observatory (SKAO), the largest scientific infrastructure planned to date, is an international effort to build the most powerful radio telescope in the world, consisting of a telescope with 197 parabolic antennas in South Africa and another with more than 130,000 low-frequency antennas in Australia. It will allow, among other things, to make a movie of the universe since the Big Bang, to observe the first stars and galaxies, to study ultra-compact objects such as pulsars, to detect (if they exist) signs of extraterrestrial life and even to detect the traces of black hole collisions. SKAO and CTAO signed a collaboration agreement in 2020, with the aim of sharing experience and knowledge in areas such as engineering, science, technology or administration

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The Astronomical Infrastructures of the Future Meet in Granada - CTAO