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The second incarnation of SOLARNET began the 1st January 2019, after successfully obtaining funding via the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme; with the main aim of the project being the integration of the major European infrastructures in the field of high-resolution solar physics. As the first year of business draws to a close, we take this opportunity to share some of the highlights from SOLARNET’s activities and look to the forthcoming year.

The team behind SOLARNET is significant, with 32 institutions from across the EU and internationally coming together and working to achieve our aim. The consortia is focusing on a number of objectives that strive to foster networking activities, enable mobility, conduct joint research activities, and ensure access to research infrastructures. To this end, the first year of activities has been highly successful.

One of the first milestones of the project was to establish a community website that would act as the central hub for sharing information on the consortium and its activities. The site highlights the key members from each research institution and industrial partner, as well as the research facilities involved (e.g. observatories, computer clusters). Furthermore, it acts as a portal for information with regards to calls for the Mobility Programme, the Transnational Access and Service Programme and all training events, workshops and conferences.

With delivering education and promoting networking a critical aspect to our success, we ran our first training events and schools of the project. Organised by Dr. Nazaret Bello González (Leibniz-Institut für Sonnenphysik, Freiburg), ‘A week above the clouds’ took place in August on Tenerife (Spain). The training week gave 15 students a chance to live the life of a solar observer. Under careful guidance of experts, the students gained experience how to operate international solar observational facilities (e.g. GREGOR), as well as receiving lectures and tutorials on related solar science and cutting-edge developments within the field, e.g. machine learning. The attendees (and staff) told us that they all had an amazing week and have even planned to submit an observing proposal to access programme. There are another three opportunities for students to be a part of this unique experience, with schools planned every year until 2022.

This year also saw the first of five planned summer/winter schools. In September the ‘Solar spectropolarimetry: From virtual to real observations’ workshop was held at Università della Svizzera italiana, Lugano, Switzerland; run by Prof. Oskar Steiner (Istituto Ricerche Solari Locarno / Leibniz-Institut für Sonnenphysik). Twenty four students and post-docs participants spent a week developing competence and skills for the interpretation of spectropolarimetric observational data with the help of synthetic data from numerical simulations. During the school, techniques and practical examples for the production of virtual (synthetic) data and comparison to real photospheric and chromospheric data were introduced. Next year will see two further schools taking place in March at the Mullard Space Science Laboratories in the UK and in October at the Univeristy of Gratz, Austria. We will also organise our first full-scale conference, currently titled ‘The Sun and Society’ towards the end of 2020.

Mobility is another key pillar of SOLARNET, with the ambition of sharing knowledge throughout the EU and bringing in new expertise from our international colleagues. To this end, we aim to provide opportunities for a number of researchers to spend extended periods of time at leading research centres around the world through the Mobility Programme. This year saw the first and second calls of issued for the programme, with those successful in the first round already undertaking visits in Austria, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and the USA.

Furthermore, we kicked off our Transnational Access and Service Programme, releasing a call for supported observational time on Europe’s major ground-based observational facilities (e.g. the Swedish Solar Telescope, GREGOR). The first call selected a number of proposals that covered a wide range of science goals, with many of them taking place over the summer observing period. In addition to the observing facilities, this SOLARNET project has a collaboration with CSCS, the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre that enables access to the Piz Daint supercomputer – the most powerful computer in the EU. The initial call for science proposals went out a couple of months back and the successful projects are due to be run in January 2020. We hope to see some exciting results coming from having access to such an amazing resource.

During this first year, the joint research activities aiming for improving the instrumentation for observing the Sun were ramping up their actions, too. The work includes detailing the requirements for new post-focus instrumentation, multi-conjugate adaptive optics, and synoptic observations. Furthermore, the first coordinated observing campaigns to test harmonization of multi-site observations took place. And, the work on concepts for extracting the necessary information out of future data and how to handle the expected data volumes has also began. The next year will see the first designs and the first results of technical feasibility studies.

As with every project, it is vital to share the research being undertaken with the wider scientific community and general public. Given the overlapping audiences and synergies between SOLARNET and PRE-EST, we have been working closely with EST-Comm in promoting the project and its activities through social media. While still finding its feet, we hope this collaboration between the two projects will blossom in the following year.

So, we’ve had a very busy but exciting and successful first year. We are looking forward to 2020 and all the exciting events and developments it will bring. We hope that our close relationship with the PRE-EST community will continue to flourish, and that working in synergy towards our respective goals will ensure a vibrant future for European Solar Physics.


Written by Richard Morton (Northumbria University, UK)
Markus Roth (Leibniz-Institut für Sonnenphysik, Freiburg, Deutschland)