ESA-ESO WG report on Galactic Populations, Chemistry and Dynamics (June 2008)

Between the early 40s, when Baade showed the first evidence for the existence of two distinct stellar populations, and today, with our Galaxy surprising us with new substructures discovered almost on a monthly basis, it is clear that a remarkable progress has been achieved in our understanding of the Galaxy, of its structure and stellar populations, and of its chemical and dynamical signatures. Yet, some questions have remained open and have proven to be very challenging.

The main task of this Working Group has been to review the state-of-theart knowledge of the Milky Way galaxy, to identify the future challenges, and to propose which tools (in terms of facilities, infrastructures, instruments, science policies) would be needed to successfully tackle and solve the remaining open questions. Considering the leadership position that Europe has reached in the field of Galactic astronomy (thanks to the Hipparcos mission and the Very Large Telescope) and looking at the (near-)future major initiatives it has undertaken (VISTA and VST survey telescopes, Gaia mission), this work clearly has been very timely.

It is of uttermost importance for European astronomy to keep and further consolidate its leading position. This Working Group has made recommendations that would allow dissecting our backyard laboratory, the Galaxy, even further. ESO survey telescopes about to become operational and the upcoming ESA Gaia mission are a guarantee for opening new horizons and making new discoveries. We, the astronomers, with the support of our funding agencies, are ready to fully commit to the best exploitation of the treasure that is ahead of us. The main recommendations this Working Group has made to ESA and ESO are to guarantee the expected tremendous capabilities of these new facilities, to vigourously organise their synergies and to jointly give ways to European astronomers to be leaders in the exploitation of their output data.

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