Portuguese astronomers eye ESA science
07 April 2000Opportunities arising because Portugal is joining the European Space Agency were aired at a scientific meeting in Porto, 30 March - 1 April. Entitled "Space Astronomy: from the Sun's vicinity to large scale structures", the meeting was jointly organized by the Centro de Astrofisica da Universidade do Porto and ESA. While ESA scientists and other visitors gave overviews of space science, Portuguese astronomers reported relevant research in progress in their country.
"We have our eye on several ESA space science projects to which we believe we could contribute," said Maria Teresa Lago of the Universidade do Porto after the meeting. "Our interest in the cosmic microwave background naturally points us towards the Planck and FIRST missions. The proposed Gaia star-mapping mission will be a powerful means of discovering alien planets, which we're also keen on. And we're already working on stellar oscillations, using data on the Sun from SOHO. So the Eddington candidate for a new ESA 'Flexi' mission would be a natural extension of that work to oscillations in other stars. If adopted, Eddington would also provide a different way of looking for planets." Making good use of ESA space science in the past, Portuguese astronomers have worked with the International Ultraviolet Explorer and the Infrared Space Observatory, the archives of which they are still quarrying. They have now submitted applications to use ESA's new satellite for X-ray astronomy, XMM-Newton, which Professor Lago considers "extremely important for our current work on activity in young stars". Within the Solar System the chief interest has been in the solar missions, Ulysses and SOHO. One of the Portuguese reports at the Porto meeting concerned atmospheric chemistry on Titan, the Saturnian moon that is the target of ESA's Huygens probe on the Cassini spacecraft now en route for Saturn. The Agreement on Portugal's accession to the ESA Convention was signed in Paris on 15 December 1999 by Josi Mariano Gago, Minister of Science and Technology, and Antonio Rodot`, Director General of ESA. Portugal will become the fifteenth full Member State of ESA by 1 July 2000 at the latest. Apart from space science, Portugal is already involved in ESA's satellite navigation programme and would like to contribute to activities in remote sensing and telecommunications.