At the request of the CNRS, two hundred French astronomers met recently in Arcachon to discuss the main priorities for ground and space-based astronomy during the next 10 years. The preliminary conclusions of this meeting can be found in http://www.insu.cnrs-dir.fr at the section ``Dernières Nouvelles''. Some of them directly concern the IRAM user community and are summarized below.
Five scientific topics were singled out as the most promising for the coming years, namely:
It was recognized that 4 of these 5 topics will heavily rely on high sensitivity, high angular resolution observations of molecules and dust at mm/submm-wavelengths. More specifically, it was recognized that new generation mm-wave interferometers, which combine for the first time sub arcsec angular resolution with spectral resolution of , are likely to revolutionize our knowledge in these domains. The Plateau de Bure interferometer, which achieves an angular resolution of 0.5'' at 1 mm wavelength, should play an important role in this respect. It will include a 6th antenna at the end of 1999 and its collective area will exceed 1000 m ; it is and should remain until the middle of the next decade the most sensitive mm-wave interferometer.
The completion of large optical telescopes in space and on the ground calls for the construction of a next generation mm-wave interferometer at the end of the next decade. The Large Southern Array (LSA/MMA) project, conceived as a US-European collaboration, has unanimously been recommended as the next cornerstone for ground-based instrumentation to be supported by France. The LSA/MMA will have a collecting area of 7000 m and achieve a synthetized beam at mm and submm wavelengths. Most probably, it will be built on a high altitude (5000 m) Chilean site. The construction of the LSA/MMA will require a commitment of several European countries, and in particular of France, Germany and Spain, which have acquired through IRAM a large observational and technical expertise in mm-wave interferometry. It is worth noting that the decision to promote a large European interferometer was taken 60 km away from the Bordeaux Observatory, where the first mm-wave interferometer was constructed and operated, since January 1973 (collecting area 10 m - see Delannoy, Lacroix & Blum Proc. IEEE vol. 61 p. 1282).