Carole Mundell, astronomer: “Half of the known universe is more than 1,000 degrees and we don't know why” | Science | EUROtoday

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Astronomer Carole Mundell (Sheffield, United Kingdom, 54 years previous) has a film resume: professional in supermassive black holes, scientific advisor to the British Government, head of her nation's Science Council and, now, head of science on the European Space Agency (ESA).

This 12 months alone, the division led by Mundell will handle greater than 600 million euros with the goal of taking humanity to locations the place it has by no means been. In its portfolio is launching ships that may permit us to raised perceive the influence of photo voltaic storms, whose scourge is rising, a telescope to find Earth's twin planets past our photo voltaic system, one other that may observe their atmospheres and make the primary local weather forecasts in these worlds; and a ship that may intercept a comet for the primary time. They are historic missions that push know-how to the boundaries of what’s attainable.

Mundell believes that her curiosity in science sparked on the age of 5, when her mom gave her a costume with mathematical symbols that she instinctively needed to decipher as in the event that they have been hieroglyphics. Physics and arithmetic have been the language of science, and Mundell pursued it within the Nineteen Nineties to attempt to perceive what occurs when black holes “suffer indigestion.” His work contributed to demonstrating that inside each galaxy there’s one in every of these voracious monsters that entail an unlimited thriller: are they those who create galaxies or the opposite approach round?

Mundell receives EL PAÍS on the idyllic ESA area middle in Villafranca del Castillo, on the outskirts of Madrid, a posh remoted from radio interference the place monumental antennas rise that obtain alerts from ships that fly by way of area thousands and thousands of kilometers away. of Earth, and of which Mundell can also be director. In this interview, the scientist speaks with equal ardour and readability about science, politics, machismo, area exploration and scientific integrity.

Ask. She was a scientific advisor to the British authorities throughout the Boris Johnson period. Does she consider that political leaders respect science and observe it of their selections?

Answer. It was a really inspiring interval. It was a civil servant place for the Foreign Office [Ministerio de Exteriores]. My activity was to make use of science as a software of diplomacy and friendship with different international locations, to help the Government's goals. He additionally suggested throughout emergencies, particularly throughout the pandemic. We supplied the info and the politicians made the selections. In basic, our recommendation was listened to. At that second we noticed clearly what the aim of investing in fundamental science is. You can't make a vaccine in a single day, it requires generations of labor, and it was great to share the data we had with different international locations.

Science helps us flee from dogma when political positions are entrenched

P. Is that also occurring in occasions of Brexit, wars in Ukraine, in Gaza?

R. Times of battle are when science diplomacy is most essential, as a result of that’s once we keep in mind who our associates are and take into consideration the sort of world we wish to construct. Science helps us flee from dogma when political positions are entrenched. It is an engine of human progress and helps to make higher political selections. I needed to advise on Brexit and likewise on different problems with safety, protection, growth, area and computing technique.

P. Let's discuss science. What is the most important query concerning the universe that may be answered by area exploration?

R. We are asking ourselves the most important questions concerning the nature of the universe. How did it begin, are we alone, is there life past our planet, what’s the way forward for planet Earth? They are existential questions which have at all times haunted us. For instance, now we have carried out the Euclid mission to review darkish matter and vitality, as a result of we all know that the growth of the universe is accelerating and we have no idea why. Space is the one attainable place to reply sure questions, similar to essentially the most highly effective gentle within the universe produced by black holes. That we will launch telescopes into area and measure these phenomena with beautiful precision makes these nice occasions for humanity.

P. Talk about existential questions. Do you suppose we’ll uncover that we’re not alone?

R. I feel we must always do one thing extra typically: cease our frenetic lives for a second and suppose that we stay on this little blue planet, simply the precise distance from the Sun; that we’re sentient beings who stay a ridiculous fraction of the age of the cosmos, which is 13.7 billion years previous. It is wonderful that we’re additionally capable of conceptualize the universe, uncover the arithmetic that describes it, ask essential questions, and develop the know-how essential to reply them. It is exclusive.

P. How is the ESA going to assault all of the questions you point out?

R. In the following 12 years we’ll launch many distinctive missions. In 2025 it will likely be launched Smile to review the interplay of the photo voltaic wind with the Earth's magnetosphere. Many of your readers can have seen the wonderful northern lights produced by the final photo voltaic storm and this mission will assist us higher perceive the impacts of the following ones that may arrive. We even have two missions lined up that may lead the seek for exoplanets. Plato It can have 26 cameras that may work as a single eye to review planets just like the Earth in stars just like the Sun. And then we’ll launch Ariel, which can permit us to review the environment of 1,000 exoplanets, so we’ll start to have the ability to examine what the local weather is like on exoplanets, which is just wonderful. And since now we have some area left, subsequent to Ariel We will launch one other probe that may stay in area for a few years ready for the second to chase a pristine comet, preferrred for understanding the origin of our photo voltaic system, and launch two small probes to review it. We even have Envisionwhich can examine Venus in its entirety, from its environment to the core. Lisa It would be the first laser interferometer in historical past to journey to area. We are speaking about three equivalent ships separated by 2.5 million kilometers that should detect gravitational waves in space-time, that are measured in millionths of a meter and that are produced by two supermassive black holes after they collide. Also now we have New Athena, a mission in growth that will be launched within the 2030s and that should clear up an incredible thriller. We solely know what 5% of the universe is manufactured from, however 50% of that fraction is fuel that’s greater than 1,000 levels Celsius and we don't know why. It's an unparalleled degree of rocket science.

Carol Mundell, head of science at the European Space Agency, after the interview.
Carol Mundell, head of science on the European Space Agency, after the interview.Alvaro Garcia

P. In 2017 you raised your voice in opposition to sexist harassment and aggression within the educational world. Do you suppose the issue has been resolved?

R. No, it nonetheless exists. A number of days in the past, the Royal Society of Astronomy of the United Kingdom printed a report that makes it clear that these issues stay unresolved. Whoever you’re, you have got the precise to work in a secure and bodily and mentally wholesome atmosphere. And that's very true in high-pressure fields, like science. The area sector continues to be dominated by males and their masculine imaginative and prescient. But there are additionally ladies who lead with brilliance. Women must look out for one another throughout the ladder, but it surely's additionally essential that males assist us guarantee the sphere turns into extra open and inclusive.

P. Until 2023 she was president of the United Kingdom Science Council, which brings collectively 350,000 scientists. In one in every of her speeches she warned of how simple it’s to lose the status of science. Does she consider that this status is threatened currently by fraudulent habits similar to double affiliations or relationship manipulation?

R. During my presidency I needed to start out a public debate about scientific integrity and its influence on the social notion of science. Most folks maintain us in excessive regard as a result of now we have earned it by creating a sturdy scientific system. But this is dependent upon each scientist being reliable. As for relationship, there is no such thing as a good system and this one particularly should be used with intelligence and customary sense. One of our most profitable missions is Rosetta, which made wonderful discoveries and carried wonderful know-how. But it’s a small scientific group, so the variety of citations to the research generated by Rosetta will not be very giant in comparison with different fields similar to cosmology. So ESA has its personal methodology for assessing the influence and high quality of the science we do. We can't blindly depend on what the numbers say, that wouldn't be very scientific. We need to be very attentive to the integrity, credibility and verification of science. We need to assume that there’ll at all times be a fraction of dishonest scientists who will attempt to benefit from the system, however it’s a small fraction if we stay vigilant.

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