Faint objects in motion: the new frontier of high precision astrometry

Fabien Malbet, Céline Boehm, Alberto Krone-Martins, Antonio Amorim, Guillem Anglada-Escudé, Alexis Brandeker, Frédéric Courbin, Torsten Enßlin, Antonio Falcão, Katherine Freese, Berry Holl, Lucas Labadie, Alain Léger, Gary A. Mamon, Barbara McArthur, Alcione Mora, Mike Shao, Alessandro Sozzetti, Douglas Spolyar, Eva VillaverUmmi Abbas, Conrado Albertus, João Alves, Rory Barnes, Aldo Stefano Bonomo, Hervé Bouy, Warren R. Brown, Vitor Cardoso, Marco Castellani, Laurent Chemin, Hamish Clark, Alexandre C.M. Correia, Mariateresa Crosta, Antoine Crouzier, Mario Damasso, Jeremy Darling, Melvyn B. Davies, Antonaldo Diaferio, Morgane Fortin, Malcolm Fridlund, Mario Gai, Paulo Garcia, Oleg Gnedin, Ariel Goobar, Paulo Gordo, Renaud Goullioud, David Hall, Nigel Hambly, Diana Harrison, David Hobbs, Andrew Holland, Erik Høg, Carme Jordi, Sergei Klioner, Ariane Lançon, Jacques Laskar, Mario Lattanzi, Christophe Le Poncin-Lafitte, Xavier Luri, Daniel Michalik, André Moitinho de Almeida, Ana Mourão, Leonidas Moustakas, Neil J. Murray, Matthew Muterspaugh, Micaela Oertel, Luisa Ostorero, Jordi Portell, Jean Pierre Prost, Andreas Quirrenbach, Jean Schneider, Pat Scott, Arnaud Siebert, Antonio da Silva, Manuel Silva, Philippe Thébault, John Tomsick, Wesley Traub, Miguel de Val-Borro, Monica Valluri, Nicholas A. Walton, Glenn White, Laura L. Watkins, Lukasz Wyrzykowski, Rosemary Wyse, Yoshiyuki Yamada

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Sky survey telescopes and powerful targeted telescopes play complementary roles in astronomy. In order to investigate the nature and characteristics of the motions of very faint objects, a flexibly-pointed instrument capable of high astrometric accuracy is an ideal complement to current astrometric surveys and a unique tool for precision astrophysics. Such a space-based mission will push the frontier of precision astrometry from evidence of Earth-mass habitable worlds around the nearest stars, to distant Milky Way objects, and out to the Local Group of galaxies. As we enter the era of the James Webb Space Telescope and the new ground-based, adaptive-optics-enabled giant telescopes, by obtaining these high precision measurements on key objects that Gaia could not reach, a mission that focuses on high precision astrometry science can consolidate our theoretical understanding of the local Universe, enable extrapolation of physical processes to remote redshifts, and derive a much more consistent picture of cosmological evolution and the likely fate of our cosmos. Already several missions have been proposed to address the science case of faint objects in motion using high precision astrometry missions: NEAT proposed for the ESA M3 opportunity, micro-NEAT for the S1 opportunity, and Theia for the M4 and M5 opportunities. Additional new mission configurations adapted with technological innovations could be envisioned to pursue accurate measurements of these extremely small motions. The goal of this White Paper is to address the fundamental science questions that are at stake when we focus on the motions of faint sky objects and to briefly review instrumentation and mission profiles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)845-886
Number of pages42
JournalExperimental Astronomy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • Astrometry
  • Cosmology
  • Exoplanets
  • Local universe
  • Space mission


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