German Involvement with the European Southern Observatory 

This image of NGC 4254 is a combination of observations conducted at different wavelengths of light to map stellar populations and warm gas. The golden glow marks the presence of newly formed stars. Credit: ESO/PHANGS

Germany is a founding member of ESO, signing the ESO convention on 5 October 1962 and officially becoming a Member State on 17 January 1964. As a founding member of ESO, host of the ESO Headquarters in Garching near Munich, and the largest contributor to ESO’s budget, Germany plays an especially strong role in the organisation and has contributed to many ESO projects in key ways. 

Germany currently contributes 22.44% of ESO’s revenue (2021 contribution), worth 43 091 000 EUR. 

As of mid 2022, there are 159 German employees at ESO, 137 in Germany and 22 in Chile. Furthermore, ESO has awarded 33 studentships, 65 fellowships and 14 internships to German nationals since 2004. 

Germany is represented in the various ESO governing and advisory bodies by astronomers and policy experts; the current German representatives of ESO’s various committees with national representation can be found here. The current President of the ESO Council, Linda Tacconi, is a senior astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) in Garching, Germany. 

The ESO Science Outreach Network (ESON) includes German representatives who act as ESO’s media and outreach local contacts. 

Here follows some information about Germany’s involvement with ESO. 

Discoveries by Germany-based astronomers using ESO telescopes 

German researchers and those based at German institutions have been involved in important discoveries using ESO facilities, including many of the ESO top 10 discoveries. Key or recent scientific discoveries include 

  • Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez who were jointly awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on the supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*, at the centre of our galaxy. Genzel, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) in Germany, and his team have conducted observations of Sagittarius A* for nearly 30 years using a fleet of instruments on ESO telescopes. One of the key instruments used was GRAVITY on ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI), which was developed by a consortium led by the MPE. 
  • The PHANGS collaboration, which is led by principal investigator Eva Schinnerer from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA), aims at surveying nearby galaxies with several telescopes, including ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) and ALMA. Recently the collaboration produced stunning observations of Galactic fireworks, imaging the birth chambers of stars.  
  • Eduardo Bañados of the MPIA in Germany, together with Chiara Mazzucchelli, Fellow at ESO in Chile and formerly an MPIA PhD student, who led a study that discovered the most distant quasar with powerful radio jets. This discovery, done with several telescopes including ESO’s VLT, could provide important clues to help astronomers understand the early Universe. 
  • The discovery of the most distant Milky-Way look-alike by Francesca Rizzo, PhD student at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics and their team using ALMA. “This result represents a breakthrough in the field of galaxy formation, showing that the structures that we observe in nearby spiral galaxies and in our Milky Way were already in place 12 billion years ago,” Rizzo says in the ESO press release

German involvement in ESO instruments and telescopes at ESO sites 

Many of the instruments for telescopes at ESO’s facilities were built by consortia led by German institutions, and Germany also played key roles in some of the telescopes at ESO’s observatories. This includes 

  • The Max Planck Institute for Radioastronomy (MPIfR), a partner in APEX that has been involved in developing many of its instruments. 
  • Germany’s institutes which were heavily involved in the development of instruments for ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer, including GRAVITY (MPE, MPIA, Universität zu Köln), MATISSE (MPIA, MPIfR, Universität Kiel) and MIDI (MPIA, Kiepenheuer-Institut, Thüringer Landessternwart). MPE is also leading the consortium for GRAVITY+, an upgrade of GRAVITY. 
  • One of ESO’s most used instruments, the Focal Reducer and Spectrograph (FORS 1 and FORS2) on the VLT which was built by the Heidelberg State Observatory, the University of Göttingen and observatories in Munich. 
  • Other VLT instruments with significant German contribution include ERIS (MPE lead the consortium), CRIRES (Georg-August Universität Göttingen, Thüringer Landessternwarte), KMOS (Universitäts-Sternwarte München, MPE), MUSE (Göttingen Astrophysics Institute; Potsdam Astrophysikalisches Institut), NACO (MPE, MPIA) and SINFONI (MPE).
  • The MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory which was originally constructed by the MPIA and later offered to ESO under an agreement where ESO undertook the installation of the telescope and managed its subsequent operation. German institutions are part of the consortia that developed instruments for this telescope.
  • Several German institutes are involved in the development of 4MOST on the VISTA telescope. The consortium is led by the Leibniz Institut für Astrophysik Potsdam.
  • Germany will be a member of the future CTA ERIC, the European Research Infrastructure Consortium, that will construct and operate the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA). The CTA will be a ground-based observatory for very high energy gamma-ray astronomy. It will consist of two arrays of dishes, a southern-hemisphere array hosted at ESO’s Paranal Observatory and a northern array on the island of La Palma, Spain. ESO will also be a member of the CTA ERIC and is represented in the council of the CTA

German involvement in ELT instruments 

Germany is part of the development of many of the instruments for ESO’s upcoming Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), namely 

  • MICADO, which is being developed by a consortium led by the MPE, will take high-resolution images at near-infrared wavelengths, identify exoplanets and investigate the mysterious centre of the Milky Way. The MPIA, the University Observatory Munich, and the Institute for Astrophysics in Gottingen are also part of the consortium. 
  • ANDES (previously known as HIRES), a high-resolution spectrograph with the main scientific aim of characterising exoplanetary atmospheres. Germany participates in the consortium through: the Leibniz-Institut für Astrophysik Potsdam; Institut für Astrophysik, Universität Göttingen; Zentrum für Astronomie Heidelberg, Landessternwarte; Thüringer Landesternwarte Tautenburg; Hamburger Sternwarte, Universität Hamburg. 
  • METIS, a Mid-infrared Imager and Spectrograph, with the main scientific aims of characterising planet-forming disks and exoplanets. MPIA is part of the consortium. 
  • MOSAIC, a multi-object spectrograph which can study many objects at once, with the main scientific aim of studying the oldest galaxies. The Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam and the LSW Heidelberg are part of the consortium. 

German industry and technology contributions to ESO 

German companies have been crucial partners of ESO over the years, with German industry making, and continuing to make, significant contributions to ESO’s projects. Some of the most valuable contracts awarded to German companies for technology development include 

  • Toptica Photonics AG being awarded important contracts related to the manufacturing of the laser on the 4 Laser Guide Star Facility on the VLT.  
  • The development of the 23 kV power system at the ALMA site made by a consortium involving German companies. 
  • Scheuerle Fahrzeugfabrik GmbH building the ALMA transporters
  • LOGWIN Air + Ocean being awarded multiple contracts related to ALMA operations, general activities and the Paranal instrumentation programme.  

ESO's contracts with the German industry include expenditure related to the ESO Headquarters. A significant example is the construction of the ESO Headquarters extension (BAM Deutschland AG, with other contracts related to the extension placed with Auer+Weber+Assoziierte GmbH), inaugurated in 2012. Other examples include renewable energy and power supply (Stadtwerke Augsburg Energie GmbH) and heating, cooling, ventilation and air conditioning (Energie-Wende-Garching GmbH & Co. KG) contracts. ESO has also placed multiple contracts with Terma GmbH, Comarch Software und Berating AG and amball business-software (among others) for IT services.  

German industry contributions to the ELT 

German companies are important industrial partners in ESO’s upcoming Extremely Large Telescope. Some of the most important contracts awarded to the German industry include 

  • With SCHOTT AG for the production of ELT mirror blanks (multiple contracts). SCHOTT has also produced mirror blanks for the VLT
  • Multiple contracts placed with FAMES EWIV for the supply of edge sensors for the segments of the ELT primary mirror.
  • Physik Instrumente (PI) GmbH & Co.KG producing position actuators for the segments of the ELT primary mirror.
  • Hexagon Metrology GmbH beingawarded a contract to manufacture laser trackers for the ELT.