ESO Timeline

This timeline shows highlights and important events in the history of ESO. One of ESO’s original aims was to allow the Member States to work together to build and operate advanced astronomical facilities that were beyond the capabilities of any individual country. In particular, it would allow European astronomers to access the parts of the sky best visible from the southern hemisphere, such as the centre of the Milky Way, or our neighbouring galaxies, the Magellanic Clouds.

An excerpt from the preamble to the ESO Convention of 1962 reads "The Governments of the States parties to this convention [...] desirous of jointly creating an observatory equipped with powerful instruments in the Southern Hemisphere and accordingly promoting and organising co-operation in astronomical research [...]". 

  1. 13 January 2010 — The first direct spectrum of an exoplanet is observed with the VLT. Read more in ESO Press Release eso1002.
  2. 26 April 2010 — Cerro Armazones is chosen as site for the ELT.
  3. 8 June 2010 — First light of the TRAPPIST telescope at La Silla.
  4. 24 August 2010 — Astronomers using HARPS discover the richest planetary system so far, containing at least five planets around the Sun-like star HD 10180. 
  5. 5 November 2010 — ALMA’s Santiago Central Office (SCO), built for the ALMA project by ESO, is handed over.
  6. 1 December 2010 — The first direct measurements of the spectra of exoplanets and their atmospheres are made with the VLT. Read more in the ESO Press Release eso1047 and in the ESO Press Release eso1002.
  7. 29 December 2010 — Brazil signs the Accession Agreement to become member of ESO.
  8. 31 December 2010 — The Space Telescope-European Coordinating Facility for the Hubble Space Telescope closes.
  9. 20 April 2011 — The light from all four VLT Unit Telescopes is combined for the first time.
  10. 8 June 2011 — First images from the VLT Survey Telescope.
  11. 27 July 2011 — The first European ALMA antenna arrives at Chajnantor.
  12. 24 August 2011 — The first 7-metre ALMA antenna arrives at Chajnantor.
  13. 30 September 2011 — ALMA starts Early Science and first image is published.
  14. 13 October 2011 — ESO and Chile sign an agreement on the land for the ELT.
  15. 11 June 2012 — ELT Programme approved by ESO Council.
  16. 11 June 2012 — Foundation stone laying ceremony for ESO Headquarters extension building.
  17. 5 October 2012 — ESO Celebrates 50th Anniversary.
  18. 12 December 2012 — KMOS instrument achieves first light on VLT UT1.
  19. 13 March 2013 — ALMA Observatory inaugurated.
  20. 6 November 2013 — ESO Celebrates 50 Years of Collaboration with Chile.
  21. 5 December 2013 — Extension to ESO Headquarters in Garching, Germany inaugurated.
  22. 5 March 2014 — MUSE instrument achieves first light on VLT UT4.
  23. 4 June 2014 — SPHERE instrument achieves first light on VLT UT3.
  24. 19 June 2014 — Groundbreaking ceremony for the European Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) takes place at Paranal Observatory.
  25. 28 October 2014 — Poland to Join the European Southern Observatory.
  26. 6 November 2014 — Revolutionary ALMA image reveals planetary genesis.
  27. 4 December 2014 — Green Light for ELT Construction.
  28. 14 January 2015 — Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) facility achieves first light.
  29. 5 August 2015 — Poland ratifies ESO membership and becomes the fifteenth Member State.
  30. 13 January 2016 — GRAVITY achieves first light on VLTI.
  31. 25 May 2016 — ESO Signs Largest Ever Ground-based Astronomy Contract for ELT Dome and Telescope Structure.
  32. 24 August 2016 — Pale Red Dot project reveals Earth-mass world in orbit around Proxima Centauri.
  33. 22 February 2017 — Temperate Earth-sized Worlds Found in Extraordinarily Rich Planetary System.
  34. 25 April 2017 — ALMA Residencia Handed Over.