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Letter from the Editor | 231

The next 15 years

The São Paulo astrophysics community has long sought to increase its scientific production and the number of graduate students in the field, obtain more observation hours on the world’s principal telescopes and achieve greater international involvement and recognition. While these aspirations have been accomplished, now the objective is to go one step further: they hope to make an unprecedented qualitative leap with the development of projects in partnership with university consortia abroad and by becoming a partner in observatories being built or expanded in South America and Europe.  To this end, FAPESP will invest about R$200 million over the coming 10 years, which should set the stage for São Paulo to become an international astrophysics hub.

The strategy is to link up with organizations that do the best astrophysics research in the world and share the costs of expensive projects with them. That is what researchers from São Paulo did when they signed agreements for four large projects that ensure their participation in research on the cutting edge of knowledge on topics about which little is known, such as the nature of dark matter and energy.  The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), measuring 24.5 meters, which will be the largest land-based telescope in 2021 when it comes on-line; the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA); the Javalambre Physics of the Accelerating Universe Astrophysical Survey (J-PAS); and the Large Latin American Millimeter Array (LLAMA) are all ambitious projects in which Brazil will take part together with other countries.

Astrophysicists in São Paulo represent one third of the Brazilian astrophysics community and account for 50% of Brazilian scientific production in the field. In addition to the four initiatives cited, there are several others that will also receive funds from FAPESP and other funding agencies. When looking at the projects as a whole, it is clear that they will all contribute to advancing the field.  One of the positive consequences of all this investment is the fact that Brazil will be well equipped to conduct first-rate astronomy research during the next 15 years, according to the researchers. Special editor Marcos Pivetta tells this story.

Another investment that has made significant contributions to scientific research is the increasing number of projects to digitize the collections of libraries, archives and museums, as reported by Policy Editor Fabrício Marques. What could previously be seen only during scheduled site visits can now be consulted easily from anywhere. While this is nothing new, the outcome of these efforts is. The dissemination of digitized collections facilitates the work of researchers, improving the results of searches and allowing them remote access to all documents available. Young researchers are already being trained in this new context of greater access to information.

Improved communication technologies also bring sad tidings. A study conducted by Brazilian and Swiss research centers using satellite images indicate that the Caatinga lost 9 million hectares of native vegetation from 1990 to 2010. This deforestation is related to agriculture and livestock raising and to the use of wood as an energy source for homes and industries, according to Special Editor Carlos Fioravanti. Of the six Brazilian biomes, the Caatinga receives little attention despite covering 10 states, almost all in the semi-arid Northeast. Perhaps this study can help shed light on the rich biological diversity in the region and the transformations it has suffered.