Sumptuously illustrated coffee-table book taking the reader behind the scenes at the most productive ground-based observatory of the world. Contains the best 300 hand-picked images from ESO's large collection of more than 100,000 images. Produced especially for ESO's 50th anniversary.

  • 264 pages
  • Hardcover
  • 25 x 26 cm
  • 3 large panoramic foldout views of the observatories
  • Includes a copy of the DVD movie Europe to the Stars



ESO/G. Schilling/L.L. Christensen


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Preview the book chapters below

Chapter 1 — Setting the Scene

Today’s astronomers who venture south of the equator to stargaze are not the first. Some parts of the Universe can only be observed from the southern hemisphere. Ever since seafarers and explorers first marvelled at the splendour of the Milky Way and the Magellanic Clouds, scientists have been lured to southern latitudes, where unknown constellations held the promise of great discoveries.

Chapter 2 — The Birth of ESO

European astronomers took sixteen years to turn a visionary idea into solid reality. But thanks to their commitment and perseverance, the European Southern Observatory was officially inaugurated at Cerro La Silla in northern Chile on 25 March 1969. Could Europe regain its leading role in ground-based astronomy from the United States?

Chapter 3 — In the Saddle

In the 1970s and 1980s the European Southern Observatory at La Silla became one of the largest and most productive astronomical centres in the world, with its dozen-plus telescopes scrutinising the night sky and revealing cosmic fireworks. La Silla also hosted the technological testbed for a whole new generation of large telescopes that would one day revolutionise astronomy.

Chapter 4 — Cosmic Voyage

What is this Universe that astronomers try to fathom? Where did it come from and where will it go? Here is the miraculous story of the cosmos, from beginning to end — an introduction to space and a brief history of time. It’s a tale of mind-blowing proportions and intricacies, and we are an integral part of it.

Chapter 5 — The Paranal Miracle

The Very Large Telescope — ESO’s astronomical workhorse for over a decade — is a smoothly running, high-tech discovery machine, perched atop Cerro Paranal in northern Chile. Sporting lasers, flexible mirrors and other optical wizardry, it is currently mankind’s most powerful optical observatory — a true gateway to the Universe.

Chapter 6 — The Soul of ALMA

At 5000 metres above sea level in the Chilean Andes, the ALMA observatory is taking shape. An international partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia, the giant antenna array will help astronomers unravel the origin of galaxies, stars, planets and life. With ALMA, ESO has embarked on the biggest adventure in ground-based astronomy.

Chapter 7 — Bridging Borders

The European Southern Observatory is all about cooperation and bringing together different communities: scientists and engineers from fifteen countries; professional astronomers and educators; science communicators and the general public. All connected by their common interest in learning more about the Universe we inhabit.

Chapter 8 — Catching the Light

Like hungry nestlings waiting to be fed, astronomical telescopes open up their mirrors to the night sky, to catch as many photons as they can. But dissecting starlight and wrenching out every possible bit of information about stars and galaxies is the work of high-tech cameras and spectrographs — the modern replacement of the human eye.

Chapter 9 — The Desert Country

The astronomical facilities of the European Southern Observatory are located in some of the most remote and hostile environments on Earth. Working and living in the Atacama Desert — the driest place on the planet — is a challenge in many different ways. But despite all these hardships, Chile feels like a second home to ESO’s scientists and engineers.

Image credit: © José Francisco Salgado (

Chapter 10 — Giant Eye on the Sky

Four centuries after Italian physicist Galileo Galilei trained his first small telescope on the heavens, European astronomers are starting to build the biggest optical-infrared telescope in the history of mankind. With the future 39.3-metre Extremely Large Telescope, Europe takes the concept of “reaching for the stars” to a completely new level.