European Southern Observatory
European Southern Observatory — ESO, the European Southern Observatory, was created in 1962 to: “establish and operate an astronomical observatory in the southern hemisphere, equipped with powerful instruments, with the aim of furthering and organising collaboration in astronomy”.
ESO is supported by Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and United Kingdom. Other countries have expressed interest to become a member as well.
ESO operates two major observatories in the Atacama desert in Chile.
The La Silla Observatory is located 600 km north of Santiago de Chile, at 2.400 m altitude, and consists of a series of optical telescopes with diameters up to 3.6 m and a 15-m submillimetre radio telescope (SEST).
The Very Large Telescope (VLT) on Paranal is located on a 2.600 m high mountain some 130 km south of Antofagasta. The VLT consists of four 8.2-meter and several 1.8-meter telescopes. These telescopes can also be used in combination as the VLT interferometer (VLTI). All four telescopes and five large state-of-the-art multi-mode astronomical instruments are now in operation. The VLTI had “First Light” in March 2001.
The ESO Headquarters are located in Garching, near Munich, Germany. It is the scientific, technical and administrative centre of ESO where technical development programmes are carried out to provide the observatories with the most advanced instruments.
There are also extensive astronomical data archives and facilities. In Europe ESO employs about 200 international Staff members, Fellows and Associates; in Chile about 50 and, in addition, about 130 local Staff members.
ESO plays a major role in the Atacama Large Millimeter Array project (ALMA) and is performing a concept study for OWL, a 100-m ground-based optical/IR telescope.