A cura di MIUR - Direzione Generale per il coordinamento la promozione e la valorizzazione della ricerca

National Institute of astrophysics (INAF)

Mission

INAF is the most important Italian research body for the universe’s study. It promotes, realizes and coordinates research activities in the field of astronomy and astrophysics, cooperating with universities and public-private organizations at national and international level. The Institute designs and develops innovative technologies and advanced instruments for the cosmos exploration. It also promotes the scientific culture dissemination by projects for the education system and, more in general, for the society.

Activity

Italian astrophysical research has earned a leading role, during the last 15 years, in ground based app and space app, achieving fundamental results and driving new large experiments that will bear fruit in coming years.

In this context, relevant results have been obtained by the INAF researchers in diverse fields within astronomy and astrophysics and using various high-tech instruments.

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For example, the all Italian satellite, AGILE, that through its Italian leader has led to important results on the high energy universe and the study of black holes (like Cygnus X-3), earning the important international “Bruno Rossi” award in 2012. Amongst AGILE's discoveries, there is also the fact that our atmosphere, under certain conditions (super-cell tropical thunder storms), can produce phenomena such as terrestrial gamma-ray bursts, i.e. "lightning" of such high energy as to render the Faraday cage which protects airplanes from normal lightning insufficient. For this reason INAF and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) are in contact with the Italian Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC) to look into this potentially destructive phenomenon. Therefore AGILE is an advanced tool,  designed to study the universe and used for discoveries on our home planet.

VIMS (Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer), VIRTIS (Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer) and VIRTIS (Visual and InfraRed Spectrometer) are three strategic instruments designed and built by INAF:

  • The first one operates on the Cassini probe, that has been revealing the mysteries of Saturn and its moons since 2004.
  • VIRTIS is busy on ESA (European Space Agency)'s Venus express probe, designed to study the greenhouse effect on this planet, something that is fundamental for our understanding of how climate change and non-reversible effects could result from careless behavior on our planet.
  • The third is on Dawn spacecraft of the NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) to study the asteroids Vesta and Ceres, the dawn of our solar system.

LFI (Low Frequency Instrument) isanother strategic instrument: ESA's Planck satellite, thanks to its LFI instrument built by a team of researchers coordinated by INAF, has made the best map of the cosmic background radiation, emitted 13.7 billion years ago. This is a critical step in understanding how the universe formed and is evolving.

Amongst the international collaborations that INAF can claim, one of the most important is related to the LBT (Large Binocular Telescope), the largest of its type and amongst the most advanced in the world. Thanks to its new adaptive optics system, developed by researchers at INAF's Arcetri Observatory, the LBT has been able, at optical wavelengths, to exceed the image sharpness of the Hubble Space Telescope, a milestone in observations of the universe and something considered impossible until recently for a ground based telescope.

INAF doesn't work only on data from its instruments, but also on those of others, such as the telescopes of ESO, an European organization of which Italy is a member. Thanks to these telescopes, the INAF researchers discovered that Mercury shows signs of recent volcanic activity and galaxies grow not only by merging with each other but also by swallowing hydrogen. Therefore the discoveries made by INAF are several: they come from supernovae to pulsars and black holes, from gamma ray bursts and extra-solar planets to the cosmic background radiation and the evolution of the universe.

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Indeed INAF is a major player in European astronomy: the Paranal Observatory in Chile recently opened the most advanced wide-field telescope, the VST (VLT Survey Telescope), developed INAF Capodimonte Observatory. Thanks to the INAF effort, Italy is one of the main promoters and supporters of E-ELT (European Extremely Large Telescope), the largest optical telescope in the world, and plays a key-role also in radio astronomy: in addition to the antennae of Medicine and Noto, INAF added the Sardinia Radio Telescope, the largest radio telescope in Europe with his parable of 64 meters in diameter.
Another technological jewel, which confirms the high level of science and technology achieved in this area by INAF is SKA (Square Kilometer Array): less than 3000 antennas, distributed between South Africa and Australia.  Also the search for planets extra-solar is relevant: at the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo now works HARPS-N (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher for the Northern emisphere), related to the more famous ESO HARPS. HARPS-N had a scientific advantage: it operates in conjunction with Kepler, the NASA hunter planet satellite, both looking the same part of the sky, the northern hemisphere and the Cygnus constellation in particular.

Branches
OSS-SPAZIO-ROMA - Istituto di Astrofisica e Planetologia Spaziali di Roma
IST-ASTROBO - Istituto di Astrofisica Spaziale e Fisica cosmica di Bologna
IST-MILANO - Istituto di Astrofisica Spaziale e Fisica cosmica di Milano
INAF-PALERMO - Istituto di Astrofisica Spaziale e Fisica cosmica di Palermo
IST-RADIO - Istituto di Radioastronomia
OSS-ARCETRI - Osservatorio astrofisico di Arcetri
OSS-CATANIA - Osservatorio astrofisico di Catania
OSS-TORINO - Osservatorio astrofisico di Torino
OSS-BOLOGNA - Osservatorio astronomico di Bologna
OSS-BRERA - Osservatorio astronomico di Brera
OSS-CAGLIARI - Osservatorio astronomico di Cagliari
OSS-CAPODIMONTE - Osservatorio astronomico di Capodimonte
OSS-PADOVA - Osservatorio astronomico di Padova
OSS-PALERMO - Osservatorio astronomico di Palermo
OSS-ROMA - Osservatorio astronomico di Roma
OSS-TERAMO - Osservatorio astronomico di Teramo
OSS-TRIESTE - Osservatorio astronomico di Trieste
Publication date 03/06/2013