ESO Celebrates 50 Years Of Observations
October 5, 2012

European Southern Observatory Celebrates 50 Years Of Space Observation

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) is celebrating 50 years since it was founded on October 5, 1962.

The signing of the ESO Convention and the founding of ESO was the culmination of the dream of leading astronomers from five European countries, including Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.

These astronomers decided to join forces with the goal of building a large telescope that would give them great access to view the sky.

"Fifty years later, the original hopes of the five founding members have not only become reality, but have been greatly surpassed," said Tim de Zeeuw, ESO´s Director General. "ESO has fully taken up the challenge of its mission to design, build and operate the most powerful ground-based observing facilities on the planet."

ESO operates three unique and world-class observing sites in Chile, and has become a leader in the astronomical research community.

The organization has been operating the Very Large Telescope (VLT), the world's most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory, since 1998. ESO is also building a new astronomical telescope known as the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA).

ESO's original observatory at La Silla is still productive and remains at the forefront of astronomical research. Its next huge telescope is also only a few years away, which will become "the world's biggest eye in the sky," according to the organization.

The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-EL) will see its first light in the next decade, and could be revolutionizing our perception of the Universe as much as Galileo's telescope did more than 400 years ago.

ESO and its partners are organizing many events and public initiatives during 2012 in order to celebrate the 50th anniversary, including a series of coordinated public events taking place in the 15 Member States.

The organization said that as part of the anniversary celebrations, the VLT was pointed towards an object in the sky this morning selected by members of the public: the Thor's Helmet Nebula. This nebula was picked in ESO's Choose what the VLT Observes contest.

The observations were performed by the winner of the Tweet Your Way to the VLT competition, and were broadcast live over the Internet from Paranal Observatory.

"With the VLT, ALMA and the future E-ELT, ESO is entering a new era, one that not even the initial bold dreams of ESO´s founding members could have anticipated. To all of you that have made it possible, on behalf of ESO, thank you!" Tim de Zeeuw said concluded.