Europe defines astroparticle strategy

16 February 2018

Multi-messenger astronomy, neutrino physics and dark matter are among several topics in astroparticle physics set to take priority in Europe in the coming years, according to a report by the Astroparticle Physics European Consortium (APPEC).

The APPEC strategy for 2017–2026, launched at an event in Brussels on 9 January, is the climax of two years of talks with the astroparticle and related communities. 20 agencies in 16 countries are involved and includes representation from the European Committee for Future Accelerators, CERN and the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

Lying at the intersection of astronomy, particle physics and cosmology, astroparticle physics is well placed to search for signs of physics beyond the standard models of particle physics and cosmology. As a relatively new field, however, European astroparticle physics does not have dedicated intergovernmental organisations such as CERN or ESO to help drive it. In 2001, European scientific agencies founded APPEC to promote cooperation and coordination, and specifically to formulate a strategy for the field.

Building on earlier strategies released in 2008 and 2011, APPEC’s latest roadmap presents 21 recommendations spanning scientific issues, organisational aspects and societal factors such as education and industry, helping Europe to exploit tantalising potential for new discoveries in the field.

There are plans to join forces with experiments in the US to build the next generation of NDBD detectors.

The recent detection of gravitational waves from the merger of two neutron stars (CERN Courier December 2017 p16) opens a new line of exploration based on the complementary power of charged cosmic rays, electromagnetic waves, neutrinos and gravitational waves for the study of extreme events such as supernovae, black-hole mergers and the Big Bang itself. “We need to look at cross-fertilisation between these modes to maximise the investment in facilities,” says APPEC chair Antonio Masiero of the INFN and the University of Padova. “This is really going to become big.”

APPEC strongly supports Europe’s next-generation ground-based gravitational interferometer, the Einstein Telescope, and the space-based LISA detector. In the neutrino sector, KM3NeT is being completed for high-energy cosmic neutrinos at its site in Sicily, as well as for precision studies of atmospheric neutrinos at its French site near Toulon. Europe is also heavily involved in the upgrade of the leading cosmic-ray facility the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina. Significant R&D work is taking place at CERN’s neutrino platform for the benefit of long- and short-baseline neutrino experiments in Japan and the US (CERN Courier July/August 2016 p21), and Europe is host to several important neutrino experiments. Among them are KATRIN at KIT in Germany, which is about to begin measurements of the neutrino absolute mass scale, and experiments searching for neutrinoless double-beta decay (NDBD) such as GERDA and CUORE at INFN’s Gran Sasso National Laboratory (CERN Courier December 2017 p8).

There are plans to join forces with experiments in the US to build the next generation of NDBD detectors. APPEC has a similar vision for dark matter, aiming to converge next year on plans for an “ultimate” 100-tonne scale detector based on xenon and argon via the DARWIN and Argo projects. APPEC also supports ESA’s Euclid mission, which will establish European leadership in dark-energy research, and encourages continued European participation in the US-led DES and LSST ground-based projects. Following from ESA’s successful Planck mission, APPEC strongly endorses a European-led satellite mission, such as COrE, to map the cosmic-microwave background and the consortium plans to enhance its interactions with its present observers ESO and CERN in areas of mutual interest.

“It is important at this time to put together the human forces,” says Masiero. “APPEC will exercise influence in the European Strategy for Particle Physics, and has a significant role to play in the next European Commission Framework Project, FP9.”

A substantial investment is needed to build the next generation of astroparticle-physics research, the report concedes. According to Masiero, European agencies within APPEC currently invest around €80 million per year in astroparticle-related activities, in addition to funding large research infrastructures. A major effort in Europe is necessary for it to keep its leading position. “Many young people are drawn into science by challenges like dark matter and, together with Europe’s existing research infrastructures in the field, we have a high technological level and are pushing industries to develop new technologies,” continues Masiero. “There are great opportunities ahead in European astroparticle physics.”

• View the full report at

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