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Stargazers Get Their Priorities Straight

Scientists have learned that politicians like it when a discipline prioritizes its desires—the accompanying plea for money then comes across as more measured. Today, in the latest attempt at such internal deliberations, European astronomers released a road map of the top facilities and space missions they say they need to stay at the forefront of their science.

Topping the list are two awe-inspiring instruments: The European Extremely Large Telescope, which will sport a mirror 42 meters across; and the Square Kilometer Array, a network of 4000 radio dishes with a combined collecting area of a square kilometer, but scattered across thousands of kilometers. Others range from robotic probes to the giant planets and their moons, to a gravitational wave detector in space and a neutrino observatory at the bottom of the Mediterranean. The plan was commissioned by a group of funding
agencies called Astronet and reaching a consensus wasn't an easy task: “At the beginning, it looked almost impossible to do, because of the complexity of Europe and it had never been done before,” says Michael Bode, the astronomer with the unlucky honor of heading the road map effort. All Astronet and the politicians who support it have to do now is figure out how to fund this ambitious program. Astronomers reckon it will require a 20% increase over 10 years in Europe’s current €2 billion annual expenditure on astronomy. See Friday’s edition of Science for more details.