Start of Strategic Partnership Discussions Between Australia and ESO
9 maj 2017
The Australian Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Senator the Hon Arthur Sinodinos, has announced his Government’s intention to open negotiations with ESO on a strategic partnership that would see Australia participate in all activities related to the La Silla Paranal Observatory. This announcement follows many years of informal discussions between Australia and ESO about potential collaborations. While the partnership arrangement is subject to the approval of ESO Council, it raises the possibility of many exciting opportunities for both Australia and ESO.
The Australian government’s announcement was given impetus by the 2015 release of the Australian Academy of Science’s Decadal Plan for Australian Astronomy, 2016–2025. This notes the need for long-term partnerships with eight-metre-class optical/infrared telescopes in order for Australia to continue to have the scientific expertise and technical capacity to conduct world-leading science with the next generation of large telescopes and to maintain the nation’s leadership in optical-infrared instrumentation. To meet these goals, a partnership with ESO — the pre-eminent organisation for ground-based astronomy — was highly sought by the Australian astronomical community, which is world-leading in its own right.
ESO’s Director General, Tim de Zeeuw, explains the significance of this decision: “The Australian government’s recent announcement is a very promising step. While some details remain to be worked out, this arrangement would be valuable for both Australia and ESO. The ESO community is well aware of Australia’s outstanding instrumentation capability, including advanced adaptive optics and fibre-optic technology. Australia’s expertise is ideally matched to ESO’s instrumentation programme, and ESO Member State institutions would be excited to collaborate with Australian institutions and their industrial partners in consortia developing the next generation of instruments. Australia would in turn gain access to industrial, instrumentation and scientific opportunities for the La Silla Paranal Observatory, in addition to participating in the related scientific and technical activities in the ESO community. And, most importantly, the potential richness of European-Australian scientific collaboration, would lead to astronomical discoveries that neither partner could achieve alone.”
ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its world-leading Very Large Telescope Interferometer as well as two survey telescopes, VISTA working in the infrared and the visible-light VLT Survey Telescope. ESO is also a major partner in two facilities on Chajnantor, APEX and ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope, the ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.
At its first light in 2024 the ELT, the largest telescope of its kind ever built, will have an adaptive optics system that will provide images about 15 times sharper than those from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope at the same wavelength, and sharper than the 24-metre Giant Magellan Telescope and Thirty Meter Telescope projects currently in development. The ELT will answer the most pressing scientific questions, ensuring ESO’s position as the world leading observatory for optical and infrared astronomy for decades to come.
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