Germany hosted the Sixth UN/ESA Workshop on Basic Space Science

The Sixth UN/ESA Workshop on Basic Space Science: Ground-based and Space-borne Astronomy was hosted by the German Space Agency (DARA) on behalf of the Government of Germany at the Max-Planck-Institute for Radioastronomy, Bonn, Germany, 9-13 September 1996. A total number of 120 participants from 34 countries attended the Workshop, coming from Austria, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Canada, Cuba, Czech Republic, Egypt, France, Germany, Honduras, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Libya, Morocco, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Slovak Republic, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States of America, and Vietnam.

The series of annual UN/ESA Workshops on Basic Space Science has been co-organized by the Austrian Space Agency (ASA), European Space Agency (ESA), French Space Agency (CNES), German Space Agency (DARA), International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Japan's Institute for Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), The Planetary Society (TPS), United States' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the United Nations (UN).

The objective of the Workshop was to bring together astronomers and space scientists from developing, Eastern European, and industrialized countries to assess the accomplishments of the whole series of Workshops on Basic Space Science, held in the period of time from 1991 to 1996 (India, Costa Rica, Colombia, Nigeria, Egypt, Sri Lanka), and to make a contribution to the worldwide development of astronomy and space science. The Workshop programme was comprised of six elements: (i) Review of activities of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) in the field of basic space science; (ii) Status of the follow-up projects that emanated from this series of Workshops; (iii) Scientific presentations on cosmic rays, photon, neutrino, and gravitational-wave astronomy; (iv) Planetary exploration; (v) Working Group sessions to address immediate problems/projects; and (vi) Selected presentations on topics instrumental for developing and Eastern European countries.

The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and its Scientific and Technical and Legal Subcommittees were set up by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1959 to review the scope of international co-operation in peaceful uses of outer space, to devise programmes in this field to be undertaken under United Nations auspices, to encourage continued research and the dissemination of information on outer space matters, and to study legal problems arising from the exploration of outer space. COPUOS is the world's space law making body. Presentations by G.Lafferranderie (ESA), D.McNally (IAU), K.-U.Schrogl (DARA), and J.Bendisch (Germany) reviewed high-minded space laws negotiated at the United Nations and directed at conducting space astronomy. They addressed adverse environmental impacts on astronomy and emphasized the need for a meaningful dialogue between industry, Governments and the international astronomical community to prevent the degradation of observing conditions for both ground-based and space-borne astronomy. The appropriate forum for such a dialogue is considered to be UN COPUOS. Participants that did not agree with that have been asked to identify a better place to discuss this matter.

The Workshops on Basic Space Science are organized for the benefit of developing countries and the participants were all impressed with the implementation of a number of follow-up projects that emanated from the Workshops in the past six years: (i) The inauguration of the astronomical telescope facility at the Arthur C. Clarke Centre for Modern Technologies in Sri Lanka ( Alwis, Sri Lanka); (ii) The operation of the radio telescope for mapping the galactic emission at long wavelengths in Colombia (S.Torres, Colombia); (iii) The establishment of the Central American Astronomical Observatory in Honduras (M.Ch.Pineda de Carias); (iv) The refurbishment of the Kottamia telescope in Egypt (F.M.Mahmoud, Egypt); and the Egyptian Mars drill project to be part of the US/Russia Mars mission in 2001 (M.A. Mosalam Shaltout, Egypt; V. Linkin, Russia; A.Ocampo, TPS). However, the Workshop participants noted with much concern that no follow-up project has made any progress in Africa. Among them, the Inter-African Astronomical Observatory and Science Park on the Gamsberg in Namibia that will not be established in the foreseeable future.

A large number of presentations were made on research, education, and ongoing projects, ground-based and space-borne, in sessions on cosmic rays, photon, neutrino, and gravitational-wave astronomy.

Until only five decades ago, astronomical observations were limited to objects that radiated visible light, a minute slice of the electromagnetic spectrum. Radioastronomy developed quickly after the second world war as an important new branch of astronomy. The detection of radiation at wavelengths invisible to the eye was essentially impossible, because most of those wavelengths (infrared, ultraviolet, gamma-rays, X-rays) are filtered out by the atmosphere. This situation only changed in 1961 with the launch of the first gamma-ray satellite. Today, an armada of space astronomy missions, planetary exploration missions, missions for solar-terrestrial studies, accompanied by a large network of ground-based observatories, is available to the international space science community. For the Workshop, a selected number of currently operating and future ground-based and space-borne observatories made a case for new astronomy and international cooperation: Solar and Heliosphere Observatory (SOHO), International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL), Roentgen Satellite Observatory (ROSAT), Infrared Space Observatory (ISO), Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), International Stratospheric Laboratory for Astrophysics (ISLA),and Hubble Space Telescope (HST). The host institution of the Workshop, the Max-Planck-Institute for Radioastronomy, delivered an example par excellence for ground-based radioastronomy over the past 25 years with its 100m Effelsberg Radioastronomy Observatory. A full afternoon session was devoted to the visit of this observatory.

Astronomers have added to observations in the electromagnetic spectrum other particles that reach Earth from space: the cosmic rays that are in fact high-speed atomic nuclei. Progress has been made to set up the Pierre Auger Cosmic Ray Observatory to study the highest-energy cosmic rays observed on Earth. With funding secured, the Auger project will form a collaboration to build and operate the detectors, two 5000 square kilometer arrays, one in the northern (USA) and one in the southern (Argentina) hemisphere. This project is being supported on an international scale, inter alia, by UNESCO and Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States of America, and Vietnam.

Astronomers are poised to make a breakthrough in observing the Universe through two additional windows. The observation of gravitational waves which are considered to be ripples of spacetime curvature that travel with the speed of light. A number of presentations provided an overview of experimental and theoretical progress in the understanding and detection of gravitational waves (GEO600, TAMA300, LIGO, VIRGO); among them the proposal for the world's largest gravitational-wave detector planned to be set up in Pakistan (GWADIR). With the detection of solar neutrinos since 1970 and the detection of neutrinos from supernova 1987A, a new branch of observational astronomy here on Earth was born - neutrino astronomy. The Workshop session on this topic focused on underground-based facilities for the detection of neutrinos, both low-energetic and high-energetic (Homestake, Kamiokande, GALLEX, SAGE, NEVOD, MACRO). A major reason for scheduling sessions on cosmic rays,neutrino, and gravitational-wave astronomy was simply the fact to have a look on how far international cooperation has developed in these three fields being part of what is called new astronomy or astroparticle physics. The presentations have shown that experimental and theoretical work in these three fields is flourishing worldwide.

Planetary exploration and astronomy are two separate items on the agenda of UN COPUOS and its Scientific and Technical Subcommittee. To take this fact into account for scheduling the programmes of the Workshops on Basic Space Science, from the very beginning of this Workshop series in 1991, one full day of the Workshop deliberations focused on planetary exploration, organized by The Planetary Society. It is no wonder that the question after life on Mars and future planetary exploration missions were centerpieces of this session. The Shoemaker-Levy impact on Jupiter still fresh in the minds of planetary scientists, a number of presentations explored the possibilities of the observation of Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) through a worldwide network of telescopes.

The Workshop deliberations in the fields of photon astronomy, particularly ground-based and space-borne missions, and planetary exploration have emphasized the fact that large electronic archives of mission data are available free of charge which can be accessed through the Internet and can be used subsequently for research and education in any country on Earth, supposed it provides appropriate Internet services to the space science community.

On all five days of the Workshop, Working Group sessions have been held to address the topics of (i) Regional cooperation in basic space science by virtue of the Regional Centres for Space Science and Technology Education affiliated to the United Nations; (ii) Planning the establishment of a World Space Observatory (WSO) which would highlight the accomplishments of the worldwide development of astronomy and space science at the occasion of the forthcoming UNISPACE III conference in the year 1999 or 2000; (iii) The need for additional efforts to develop basic space science in Africa which led to the establishment of a Working Group focusing on this very matter; and (iv) Education and research with small astronomical telescopes and international cooperation in the worldwide development of astronomy and space science (the publication of the booklet titled Developing Astronomy and Space Science Worldwide by the United Nations is still pending).

Over a period of more than twelve months, the local organizing committee (J.W.M.Baars, E.Fingas, B.Naunheim, K.-U.Schrogl, R.Schwartz, H.Witte) did a marvelous job in cooperation with the scientific programme committee ( Boer, R.Davis Jr., J.Ehlers, G.Hartmann, H.J.Haubold, T.Kirsten, P.G.Mezger, A.Ocampo, P.Predehl, J.Rahe, H.-P.Roeser, V.Schoenfelder, K.S.Thorne, W.Wamsteker) to prepare the Workshop at the highest scientific level with a programme of more than 85 presentations and five evening Working Group sessions which led to a guaranteed 15 hours working day for the one week Workshop.

Over the time period of six years these Workshops have established its own history, for the benefit of the world community of astronomers. The Workshops have been held in all five economic regions on Earth and provided the opportunity to assess the status of astronomy in each region, particularly in developing countries. The series of Workshops created a unique set of observations and recommendations for the future of astronomy in these regions. The Workshops also provided the forum for a dialogue between Governments and the scientific community to create a common understanding for the development of astronomy and space science at the national, regional, and international level.

The Workshops on Basic Space Science have been organized annually as part of the United Nations General Assembly endorsed activities of the Programme on Space Applications. Their utmost goal is to strengthen international cooperation in the field of basic space science. The study of the Universe is common to every human culture, in every epoch of history. The astronomical and planetary exploration communities have long shown leadership in creating international collaborations and cross-cultural cooperation. The Workshops on Basic Space Science represent a forum in which these communities can publicize both their scientific achievements and the international and peaceful character of astronomical and planetary exploration studies. In this connection the United Nations initiated a follow-up research project for the Workshop in Germany that will explore the efforts of Albert Einstein (based on his letter to the UN GA in 1947 and subsequent documents) and Niels Bohr (based on his letter to the UN in 1950 and subsequent documents) and other eminent scientists, as might be appropriate, to engage the United Nations in making use of the role of scientists in seeking a peaceful road to a secure and prosperous future. Both great masters of physics have had already a long history in international cooperation before they made the final step to approach the United Nations.


COSPAR Information Bulletin No. 136, August 1996, pp. 8-11.
American Astronomical Society Newsletter No. 79, March 1996, pp. 17-18.
COSPAR Information Bulletin No. 133, August 1995, pp. 99-102.

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