Historic examples of ESO-developed technologies

IHAP Interactive Data Reduction Software Package

(ESO Development)

The ESO IHAP data analysis system has its origins in the early 1970s when the first mini-computers were introduced onto La Silla. It aimed to provide astronomers with an easy-to-use and interactive data reduction tool that could be used even at the telescope during observations. Initially this was used for spectroscopic observations, and was extended to image data around 1976 when the first 2-D image display units were introduced. Although by modern standards, IHAP was a rather simple system, it embraced many ideas such as Graphical User Interfaces that have since become standard today. In its day, it was used in many astronomical institutions in Europe and elsewhere.

Technical CCD systems

(Technology extended through an ESO procurement contract)

For the VLT project, ESO required Peltier-cooled CCD detector systems for wavefront sensing, acquisition and guiding applications. The Technical CCD (TCCD) heads had to be very compact and have an extremely small thermal signature to avoid disturbing the local environment as any thermal disturbance could be interpreted as a physical distortion of the telescope mirror. No commercial CCD system could be found to fulfil these criteria, so a development contract was placed with Jena-Optronik in 1994 to develop a new system based on an ESO prototype design to meet these requirements.

The original TCCD systems are now obsolescent, and have been replaced by a newer version based on a commercial controller and an ESO-developed CCD head. Although the market for CCD camera systems has developed considerably in the last 10 years, there is still no commercially produced system that offers a very compact cooled CCD head with negligible heat dissipation.

Real-time processors for Adaptive Optics Systems

(Technology extended through an ESO procurement contract)

In the early days of Adaptive Optics, the performance was limited by the speed of the real-time processor and standard commercial computers were too slow and bulky. The Marseille start-up firm Shakti developed the special purpose real-time processor used for the Come-On systems. Although technological developments have now changed the situation, the firm has since evolved and joined forces with ONERA to form a new company Shaktiware to develop state-of-the-art opto-electronic equipment.

Remote Observing


(Technology developed at ESO)

Before the VLT era, astronomers given observing time on ESO telescopes had to travel to Chile to carry out their observations. This often meant nearly a week of travelling for possibly just a few nights at the telescope. If the weather was bad, then the trip was wasted. In the early 1980s, ESO developed the concept of "Remote Observing". A control room was created in Garching that was functionally identical to the control rooms on La Silla, and with the same CRT screen displays and status information as at the telescope. Thus, observers only had to travel to Garching to execute their programmes where there was no time difference and observations could partially be carried out during the European daytime. The very first implementation was limited by the speed of a modem connection which was very slow and severely limited the amount of data transmitted. But with the advances in communications technology, for example the installation of a direct satellite link to La Silla, even fairly large data files could eventually be transmitted in quasi real-time. This was the first example of intercontinental remote control of ground-based optical telescopes.


When the VLT started, a new observing paradigm known as "Service Observing" was introduced. This provided additional advantages in that the observing programmes of different astronomers could be interleaved and executed only when the weather conditions were appropriate. Remote Observing was therefore discontinued at the end of 1998.