Message from the Director General

Published: 22 Dec 2020
Xavier Barcons looks forward to new challenge

The year 2020 will go into history as an exceptional one in almost every area of human activity. While we are still suffering the direct impact of the global pandemic and these will surely continue for some time, the end of the year is a suitable occasion to sincerely thank the efforts of our scientific community to carry on producing excellent science. I also wish to express my appreciation to all ESO staff and to our partners and contractors in the Member States and Chile for finding creative ways of enabling our projects to move forward, and of resuming astronomical observations and the delivery of scientific data. Last but not least, my warmest thanks to the Member State delegations in our governing bodies for their continued, unfailing and invaluable support to ESO.

As we all have experienced, the global pandemic has affected professional astronomy in many ways. ESO observatories had to cease their activity for nearly six months and it is only since September that some science could restart, as allowed by safety restrictions. Exciting projects providing new observing capabilities had to be delayed, scientific conferences had to be postponed or moved to an online format, and the occasions for formal and informal contact with colleagues, which form such an important part of our science activity, especially for the early-career colleagues, have been greatly diminished or even suppressed.

On the other hand, the massive effort of conducting meetings, conferences and talks online have had the unexpected benefit of enabling massive attendance, often at weird hours, of very interesting conferences. Based on this experience we will work toward finding a better balance between the remote interaction that new technologies enable, and the always beneficial personal interaction that should never be entirely replaced.

While acknowledging that it is still early to evaluate in full the impact that the pandemic will leave once it is overcome, hopefully soon, there are strong reasons to look forward to 2021 with optimism. Construction of the ELT continues to proceed toward completion later this decade, La Silla Paranal and APEX are resuming scientific observations step by step, new instruments continue making progress through the various stages of definition, construction or commissioning, ALMA is making firm steps towards restarting science observations early next year, and new data products and services have continued to be made available through the ESO archive facility. During the pandemic ESO has maintained many of its activities to foster collaboration in astronomy and has started new initiatives online that will continue once the situation goes back to normality.

It is also evident that despite the many difficulties, the scientific community to whom we serve, has continued thoroughly exploiting ESO’s telescopes data and producing lots of science. As a testimony of this, let us celebrate that for a second consecutive year the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to science breakthroughs with strong links to ESO.

In closing a year marked by unprecedented difficulties, let me express on behalf of ESO my special sympathies toward those of you who have suffered personal hardships and losses. We at ESO look forward to continuing the close cooperation with our science community in a better 2021, with plenty of exciting science while moving towards a recovered normality.