SRON searches for life in the universe

| Sleutelstad TV

Leiden already has an observatory, a faculty of astronomy and a number of companies involved in space technology. A new company has been added to the Bio Science Park: SRON. With this, Leiden strengthens its position in the world as a knowledge center for space technology. The changing climate and the question of whether there is life on other planets are the main topics that the researchers are working on.

“We conduct research from space with satellites,” explains astronomer Erik Arends of SRON. “We look up at the universe, and we look down at the Earth.” Looking at the earth in particular is very topical in connection with climate change. For example, SRON participates in a recently launched global methane detection system of the United Nations.

Methane leaks

“Methane is the most important greenhouse gas next to CO2 and is responsible for about a quarter of human global warming,” Arends says. SRON's Tropomi satellite is able to search for methane leaks on Earth on its own every day. These mainly arise in the oil and gas industry and in large rubbish dumps. “It is a shame that methane is leaking because it has a huge impact on the environment and it can be prevented. So we track down the big emitters and hope that something will be done about it.”

Aerospace Cluster

SRON already started with space technology in the 1960s in Utrecht. That building was so outdated that the company decided to move to Leiden. “In South Holland you have a large aerospace cluster. ESA in Noordwijk, Airbus here at the Bio Science Park, and there's an observatory and the Leiden Physics Institute. And then there is also the Instrumentmakers school here, so we fit in perfectly,” says Arends. TU Delft is also an important partner for SRON.


SRON also looks into space. Using highly sensitive home-made detection systems in satellites, the scientists search for X-rays and hot gases in the Milky Way. “And we're looking at exo-planets. Those are planets orbiting stars in other solar systems.” Ultimately, that should answer the question of whether there is life anywhere else. The answer to that has to be yes, thinks Arends. “There are many more planets than stars, then you are talking about about 100 billion times 100 billion. So there are so many planets that you would almost say that there must be life. That's just very hard to see. The question is whether we will experience the answer to that question.”