02AF24E8-55AA-49C6-863C-FA59BB8993E3 Created with sketchtool. Australian Astronomy Goes Large

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  Last updated August 3, 2017 at 12:12 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.

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.

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Panaral Observatory photo courtesy of ESO

Header image courtesy of Hernan Fernandez Retamal

About the Author

Ben Lewis
Ben Lewis is a Producer at Australia’s Science Channel, and Editor of the Space, and Innovation and Tech channels. He has worked with scientists and science storytellers including Brian Cox, Chris Hadfield, Robert Llewellyn, elite athletes, Antarctic explorers, chefs and comedians. Ben has also been involved in public events around Australia and was co-writer, producer and director of The Science of Doctor Who, which toured nationally in 2014 in association with BBC Worldwide Australia & New Zealand. Want more Ben? You can hear him on ABC radio in Adelaide, regional SA, NSW, and around Queensland, commercial radio in the ACT, and Radio Adelaide. He also speaks at universities around Australia on communicating science to the public. Around the office he makes the worst jokes known to mankind.


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