Astronomers protest at plans to cancel planet search mission
Brussels, 06 Nov 2003
Over 400 astronomers from across Europe and beyond have written to the European Space Agency (ESA), calling on it to reconsider cancelling the Eddington mission. Such a move would 'destroy confidence in a European Space Age,' claim the signatories.
ESA had planned to launch the Eddington spacecraft in 2008 on a planet search mission. It would search out Earth-like habitable planets and provide statistics on the distribution of planets around other stars. The mission would provide invaluable information for understanding stellar evolution and the ages of stars. Those involved believe this is of crucial importance to understanding the formation of structure, and chemical evolution, of galaxies.
However, ESA has indicated that funding difficulties may force the cancellation of the mission - an unprecedented move for the space agency.
The letter, addressed to ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain and Director of Science David Southwood, argues that the mission is not only crucial to understanding the evolution of galaxies, but to finding signs of life and maintaining Europe's position as a pioneer in space.
'Europe has pioneered both planet searching and asteroseismology,' states the letter to ESA. The first planet discovered around another star was found by a European group in 1995, as were several subsequent discoveries. European groups were the first to detect global solar oscillations, and to carry out a helioseismology space experiment. 'It would be a tragedy if Europe were not to pursue these major areas of research in which it is the clear leader,' say the astronomers.
Some of ESA's budgetary difficulties have been caused by the grounding of the Ariane launcher and its impact on the Rosetta comet mission, which was forced to change its target. However, the letter argues that Eddington could be produced within the budget agreed only last year, of 180 million euro. The letter also emphasises that the organisations involved have already invested considerable time and money in the Eddington mission, and that some groups have already received national funding for the project.
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