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First drill for Einstein telescope in Voeren: “A historic moment” (Moelingen)

Geologists from the Einstein telescope project (ET) started drilling on a meadow in Sint-Pieters-Voeren on Wednesday morning. Goal: find a stable, rock-hard surface at a depth of about 250 meters. Minister Jo Brouns (CD&V), Governor Jos Lantmeeters (N-VA) and Voeren mayor Joris Gaens (Voerbelangen) wanted to witness this. “We are drilling for the future here,” was the chorus.

This is the second in a series of eleven test drillings in the region, with three more to map the Voeren subsurface in the coming months. “Look, this is what we are looking for,” says geohydrologist Björn Vink of the ET project office. What can be seen is a gray, rocky boron sample, about 10 centimeters thick. “This piece of sandstone with quartzite is a drill sample from our recently completed exploratory drilling in Hombourg, Wallonia. It is the hardest stone there is. This comes from the Devonian period, about 365 million years old. This stone would be ideal for building the telescope and its three corners. We just don’t know the subsurface here enough. Hence the test drillings. We are looking for an underground flat surface in the region that is extremely stable. After all, the final measurements of gravitational waves must be extremely precise.”

“Historic”

“A historic moment,” says Flemish Minister for Innovation Jo Brouns. “Compare this with André Dumont’s drilling 123 years ago in As. What has that not meant for Limburg? We are drilling into the future here. What the impact of the Einstein telescope could mean became clear to me during a visit to CERN, the particle accelerator in Switzerland. That fundamental research has yielded, among other things, the internet and medical imaging technology.”

“We don’t yet know what scientists will discover with this new third-generation gravitational wave detector. But everyone is convinced that it will be revolutionary. With applications that we cannot yet imagine,” says believer Brouns. “If Flanders, together with the Netherlands, Germany, Wallonia and federal Belgium, can bring the Einstein telescope here, it will have a major impact on the entire Euroregion. And therefore also for the Limburg knowledge economy.”

“Every euro invested will yield 3 to 4 euros,” says Brouns. “Plus another 35,000 direct and indirect jobs. If we can achieve this together, the Italians, who are also candidates with Sardinia, have no chance in my opinion. Our approach is an example for Europe. Because we work together and not compete with each other. Moreover, our approach is scientific and purely future-oriented. In Sardinia it is also a reconversion project for a backward region.”

Lobbying work

Project agency ET Euregio Maas-Rhine has already started lobbying to convince other European countries that the Einstein telescope would be best located at the three-country point, central to an important knowledge region. Europe is expected to allocate at the end of 2026, beginning of 2027. In the meantime, the project office is working on various feasibility studies for its bid book, of which this geological research is only part.

Minister Brouns is not waiting. Last Friday he released another 5.5 million to continue financing the Flemish team around project manager Hans Plets, now fully embedded in the project office that until recently worked exclusively with Dutch money. “We want to compile a file that is as precise as possible in order to finally convince partner country Germany,” says Brouns. “We would also like to bring the above-ground research center to Flanders. Although that will undoubtedly require a lot of negotiations.”

The ET project is estimated at an investment of around 3 billion euros, albeit spread over many years. “Belgium – Flanders, Wallonia and the federal level – will have to pay approximately one billion euros of this. But what a return if we win our bid.”

The underground Einstein Telescope will be Europe’s most advanced observatory for gravitational waves. This allows researchers to hear black holes collide and gain knowledge about the early universe.

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