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CORDIS Express: Stepping into the unknown with research into astronomy

This edition of CORDIS Express takes a look at research projects related to astronomy and space exploration.

Star gazing has been a human fascination since we first looked up into the night sky. Astronomy has progressed hugely since those first glimpses and our studies of the Universe are beginning to provide answers to some of humankind’s most fundamental questions. Never before in our history have we understood so much about the birth of our Universe and the formation and evolution of galaxies. Hundreds of planetary systems have now been discovered around other stars. Experts predict that we are on track to soon discover Earth-like planets and perhaps signatures of life in their atmospheres. Among these experts is Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), who has said that we could find life beyond Earth within two decades if we simply made it a higher priority. He elaborates, ‘Here I mean life of any kind, including those undoubtedly dominant species that are single-celled and microscopic. But of course, I want to find intelligent life – the kind that could join the conversation.’ These discoveries and ongoing explorations are not only highly thrilling on a scientific, academic and philosophical level, they are also contributing concretely to our lives here on Earth right now. At least that’s what many Europeans believe. According to a Eurobarometer survey published earlier this year, almost six in ten Europeans think that space activities contribute to job creation in the EU. They also see space technologies as having a role in helping to avoid threats such as asteroids, comets and space debris collisions. At the heart of the discovery of new planetary systems and ongoing quest to find a planet like our own, are dedicated research teams, large research infrastructures and technologies like ground-based optical, radio, and cosmic-ray observatories and large-scale computing facilities. And Europe is no straggler when it comes to astronomical excellence - the European Southern Observatory (ESO) builds and operates a suite of the world's most advanced ground-based astronomical telescopes. Meanwhile, the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme will enthusiastically nurture European space research over the coming years. EU space research is identified by the programme as one of Europe's 'key industrial technologies' highlighting its potential for EU innovation and competitiveness. This edition of CORDIS Express takes a look at some of the research projects related to astronomy and space exploration that already underway across Europe. - Getting youngsters excited about the Universe - A bird's-eye view of the Universe - Going underground to study the Universe - Decoding the stars - Hi-tech cubes explore the thermosphere