Q. What is gaining attention in the field of astronomy this year?
Herschel Space Observatory (Courtesy of ESA/AOES Medialab)
The thing happening this year is the launching of satellites. Europe launched two satellites in May- Planck, to study the 3K background and advance cosmology, and Herschel, which is an infrared satellite. The Americans, in March, launched a satellite called Kepler, which is searching for extra-solar planets and probably has the capacity of discovering some with mass similar to Earth's. So these are examples of important events happening this year. I don't think there is an important launch at JAXA this year. But, of course, there are very important JAXA satellites flying at the moment - the Infrared Astronomical Satellite Akari, the X-ray Astronomy Satellite Suzaku, and so on, which will bring lots of results.
There is a very special eclipse coming up, on the 22nd of July. It is a total eclipse of the sun, and it's a particularly long one. It's a fantastic one. And by night, I think it will be visible in Japan, you are lucky to have it. So, on that day, be sure to go to a place without clouds and look at it. This eclipse is really special.
Q. Can you tell us about your own research?
Completed image of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) (Courtesy of ESO/ALMA)
I am interested in the evolution of galaxies - not our galaxy but the other galaxies, the history of star formation through the life of the universe . How much gas went to form stars in galaxies at different times in the life of the universe? This type of work is done using astronomy at many different wavelengths, but in particular in the infrared. So it will be very useful to have the satellite Herschel. And then in the future, there is a facility being built called ALMA. It's being built in Chile by the North America, Europe and Japan. It's a world project, and it will be extremely important for my field.
Q. How do you feel about Japan's and JAXA's research in astronomy?
JEM-EUSO (Extreme Universe Space Observatory) attached to the International Space Station (Artist's Rendition) (Courtesy of RIKEN)
I think Japan has had a steady stream of satellites now for many years, in X-rays, in infrared, in solar astronomy and many other fields. All of them have been enormous successes. And now that we are going towards very big projects both on the ground and in space, the Japanese are joining with the U.S. and Europe in these world projects. You can see that with ALMA, which is on the ground. In X-rays, the big satellite in preparation, called IXO, will be a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and JAXA.
JAXA is also sending a mission called JEM EUSO to the International Space Station, to study extremely high-energy cosmic waves, which is completely original. They are the only ones to do this. JAXA is a very, very strong and successful partner from everybody's point of view. And having worked a lot on ALMA myself, I can also say it's a very good partner. It's a pleasure to work with the Japanese.