Finding Earth’s habitable twins, looking further into the universe than ever before and mapping nurseries of new stars: astronomers have sky-high ambitions to increase our knowledge of the universe (and our place in it). This is evident from the latest plans of ESA, NASA and the European Southern Observatory (ESO) for the coming decades. To build the telescopes needed for this groundbreaking science, scientists are constantly working on increasingly advanced technologies. This week, the latest developments in astronomical (space) instrumentation will be presented at the “SPIE astronomical telescopes and instrumentation” conference in Montréal.
This event takes place once every two years and is the most important conference on (optical) astronomical instruments and telescopes in the world. The conference consists of a symposium with technical and scientific presentations, and a trade fair where research institutes and industry present themselves and make new connections.
World summit in terms of optical technology.
The Netherlands is well represented at the conference. According to Thomas Wijnen, NOVA’s instrumentation coordinator and organiser of the Dutch pavilion at the fair, this makes sense. “The Netherlands definitely belongs to the world’s top in astronomical technology and research, regularly contributing to ESA and NASA missions with innovative technology developments, but also to ESO’s telescopes.”
One example is the MIRI instrument on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). During the symposium, the telescope is the focus of much attention: after a successful launch late last year, the first recordings were released last week. One of the four instruments on board the JWST was substantially developed in of Dutch: the optical heart of MIRI that measures mid-infrared radiation was built by NOVA, in collaboration with SRON, ASTRON and TNO, among others.
According to Wijnen, the Netherlands continues to innovate: “For example, technologies are currently being developed at Leiden University that enable direct observations of exoplanets. The aim is for these techniques to be used in telescopes on Earth as well as in space telescopes in the future.”
New collaborations emerge at NL Space pavilion.
At the fair, the NLSpace pavilion, where Dutch institutes and companies present visibility as a strong space community, with eye-catching orange banners, is not to be missed. This is where new connections are made between global industry and research institutes. The NL Space pavilion is co-funded by NSO, SpaceNed and the ILO network. This year, Cosine, Dutch United Instruments, NOVA, SRON, TNO and VDL ETG are participating in the pavilion. Through the contacts made and the ideas and collaborations created this week, astronomers can continue to increase our knowledge of the universe in the future.