Last updated July 18, 2017 at 5:45 pm
The Australian Government and European Southern Observatory (ESO) have today signed an agreement to provide Australian astronomers with long-term access to the world’s best optical telescopes.
The agreement formalises a relationship announced in this year’s budget, when a partnership with the ESO was made possible with the provision of $129 million over 10 years.
The ESO operate arguably the world’s best sites for optical astronomy, the La Silla and Paranal Observatories in the Atacama Mountains of Chile. The high altitude, extremely low humidity and very low light pollution provide perfect conditions for observing the far reaches of the universe. The Paranal site includes the Very Large Telescope, consisting of four 8-metre diameter lenses. The ESO is also currently constructing the Extremely Large Telescope, measuring 39.3 metres in diameter.
The ESO Paranal Observatory in Chile
This partnership will give Australian astronomers access to the ESO’s facilities in Chile and provide opportunities to collaborate with researchers from the 16 ESO member countries. It comes as a result of calls from the Australian astronomy community over several years for long-term access to large optical-infrared telescopes.
It is also anticipated the benefits of this strategic partnership will be felt beyond the research community. The government suggests it will create new opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses to tender for contracts ranging from heavy engineering, electrical and mechanical engineering to the design and development of precision optics, electronics, sensors, and complex instrumentation. And the development of those technologies could filter down into more everyday products in a wide range of areas like medicine, telecommunications, and manufacturing.
— Arthur Sinodinos AO (@A_Sinodinos) July 10, 2017
The Director General of ESO, Professor Tim de Zeeuw, said the collaboration would lead to fundamental new advances in science and technology. “Australia has a long and rich history of internationally acclaimed astronomical research. The already very active and successful astronomical community will undoubtedly thrive with long-term access to ESO’s cutting-edge facilities.”
“Australia’s expertise in astronomical technology, including advanced adaptive optics and fibre-optics, is ideally matched with ESO’s instrumentation programme. In turn, Australia will gain access to industrial, instrumentation and scientific opportunities at ESO’s La Silla Paranal Observatory.”
In combination with Australia’s participation in the Square Kilometre Array this partnership comes at a boom time for large-scale Australian astronomy. And there may be more to come, with the government suggesting it could be a precursor to gaining a full membership in the ESO.
— Tanya Hill (@nightskymelb) July 10, 2017