European Southern Observatory: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

European Southern Observatory

Observatory logo

Participating countries
Formation 1962
Type research organization for astronomy
Membership 14 member countries

The European Southern Observatory ('ESO; formally the European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere) is an intergovernmental research organisation for astronomy, composed and supported by fourteen European countries. Established in 1962 with an objective to provide state-of-the-art facilities and access to the Southern Sky to European astronomers, it is famous for building and operating some of the largest and most technologically advanced telescopes in the world, such as the New Technology Telescope (NTT), the telescope that pioneered active optics technology, and the VLT (Very Large Telescope), consisting of four 8-meter class telescopes and four 1.8-m Auxiliary Telescopes.

Its numerous observing facilities have made many astronomical discoveries, and produced several astronomical catalogues. Among the more recent discoveries is the discovery of the farthest gamma-ray burst and the evidence for a black hole at the centre of our Galaxy, the Milky Way. In 2004, the VLT allowed astronomers to obtain the first picture of an extrasolar planet, 2M1207b, orbiting a brown dwarf 173 light-years away. The HARPS spectrograph led to the discoveries of many other extrasolar planet, including a 5 earth mass planet around a red dwarf, Gliese 581c. The VLT has also discovered the candidate farthest galaxy ever seen by humans, Abell 1835 IR1916.



La Silla at night
VLT telescopes

All its observation facilities are located in Chile (because of the need to study the Southern skies and the unique atmospheric conditions of the Atacama Desert, ideal for astronomy), while the headquarters are located in Garching near Munich, Germany. ESO operates three major observatories in Chile's Atacama desert, one of the driest places on Earth:

One of the most ambitious ESO projects is the European Extremely Large Telescope, a 42-m telescope based on an innovative 5-mirror design, following the concept of an Overwhelmingly Large Telescope (OWL). If built, the E-ELT will be the largest optical/near-infrared telescope in the world. ESO has started in early 2006 the design phase of this telescope with the aim to be able to start construction in 2010. The E-ELT would then be ready by 2017.

La Silla

La Silla Observatory hosts eighteen telescopes, albeit most are now closed. Three are still operated by ESO for use by the astronomical community:


MPG/ESO 2.2 m telescope

This telescope is on permanent loan from the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. Its instrumentation includes a spectroscope and a wide-field CCD (WFI) imager capable of mapping substantial portions of the sky in a single exposure. In 2007, a third instrument was added, GROND, that takes images simultaneously in seven colours. It will be mostly used to determine distances of gamma-ray burst.[1]

ESO 3.6m Telescope

This conventionally designed horseshoe mount telescope, was mostly used for infrared spectroscopy. It now hosts the HARPS spectrograph, which is devoted to measuring velocities with extreme precision. Values as small as a few cm/s have been obtained. It is thus used especially for the search of extra-solar planets and for asteroseismology. HARPS was used in the discovery of Gliese 581c and Gliese 581d.

New Technology Telescope (NTT)

Although the NTT is almost the same size as the 3.6 m telescope, the use of active optics makes it a higher resolution instrument. The NTT is indeed the first large telescope to be equipped with active optics, a technology developed at ESO, and nowadays used on all major telescopes. The NTT had also, at the time of building, innovative thermal control systems to minimise the telescope and dome seeing.

Other telescopes

Other telescopes present on the La Silla site include three ESO reflectors, two Danish ones, one Dutch refractor, the Swiss Leonard Euler Telescope (1.2m), all in the range from 0.5 to 1.5 meter, and the Swedish SEST, 15-m submillimeter radio telescope. All but the Euler telescope and the Danish 1.54m telescope are now decommissioned.[2]


The Very Large Telescope (VLT) is the main facility at Paranal. It is composed of four near-identical 8.2-m Unit Telescopes, each hosting two or three instruments, making it certainly the most versatile astronomical facility. The telescopes are named Antu, Kueyen, Melipal and Yepun. The telescopes can also combine their light, in groups of two or three, as an Interferometer. This is the VLTI (Very Large Telescope Interferometer). Four 1.8-m Auxiliary Telescopes (ATs) have been added to the VLTI to make it available when the Unit Telescopes are being used for other projects. These ATs were installed between 2004 and 2007. The first of the Unit Telescopes had its First Light in May 1998 and was offered to the astronomical community on 1 April 1999. The other telescopes followed suit in 1999 and 2000, and the VLT is thus fully operational. Statistics show that in 2007, almost 500 refereed scientific papers were published based on VLT data.[3]

The site also houses the 2.5-m VLT Survey Telescope (VST) and the 4-m VISTA (Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy) with wide fields of view for surveying large areas of sky uniformly, in the visible and infrared, respectively. First Light for VISTA occurred in 2009, and it is in full operation since April 1, 2010.

In March 2008, Paranal was the location for the filming of several scenes in the 22nd James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace.[4].

Llano de Chajnantor

Member states

Member country Joined
 Belgium 1962
 Germany 1962
 France 1962
 Netherlands 1962
 Sweden 1962
 Denmark 1967
 Switzerland 1981
 Italy 1982, 24 May
 Portugal 2000, 27 June
 United Kingdom 2002, 8 July
 Finland 2004, 1 July
 Spain 2006, 1 July
 Czech Republic 2007, 1 January
 Austria 2008, 1 July

The Irish Astronomical Association is currently lobbying the Irish Government for membership.[citation needed]

ESO General Directors
Otto Heckmann 1962–1969
Adriaan Blaauw 1970–1974
Lodewijk Woltjer 1975–1987
Harry van der Laan 1988–1992
Riccardo Giacconi (Nobel Prize winner) 1993–1999
Catherine Cesarsky 1999–2007
Tim de Zeeuw from 2007

See also


  1. ^ - Press release
  2. ^ ESO Photo Gallery - La Silla Observatory
  3. ^ - Science Library
  4. ^ - Press release

External links

Video clips

Coordinates: 48°15′36″N 11°40′16″E / 48.26°N 11.67111°E / 48.26; 11.67111

Simple English

European Southern Observatory
Typeresearch organization for astronomy
Membership14 member countries

The European Southern Observatory (ESO, officially called the European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere), is a research group for astronomy, made up of fourteen countries from Europe. Made in 1962 to give state-of-the-art facilities and a view the Southern Sky to European astronomers, it is well known for using some of the largest and most advanced telescopes in the world, such as the New Technology Telescope (NTT), the telescope that helped create active optics technology, and the VLT (Very Large Telescope), made of four 8-meter class telescopes and four 1.8-m Auxiliary Telescopes.

Member countries

Member country Joined
File:Flag of Belgium (civil).svg Belgium 1962
 Czech Republic 1 January 2007
 Denmark 1967
 Germany 1962
 Finland 1 July 2004
 France 1962
 Italy 24 May 1982
 Netherlands 1962
 Portugal 27 June 2000
 Spain 1 July 2006
 Sweden 1962
 Switzerland 1981
 United Kingdom 8 July 2002
 Austria 1 July 2008


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address