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What is the ESO?

10/03/2006

Spain has become part of the ESO, the European Southern Observatory, and now enjoys all the benefits conferred by membership of this internationally renowned group. The Gran Telescopio CANARIAS (GTC) and the IAC observatories played an important part in securing Spain's entry into the ESO.

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José Miguel Rodríguez Espinosa, Science Director at the GTC and incumbent President of the Spanish Astronomical Society (SEA), believes that the Canaries, and in particular the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos, played an important role in securing this agreement. "I think now is a good time to join because with the added value of the GTC, which we did not have before, we are now seen as a powerful group from which other members of the ESO can learn. Our position previously was nothing like as strong.'

Mr Rodriguez Espinosa continued "you have to remember that from the Canaries we cannot observe the southern hemisphere, which is different from the northern one in obvious ways. Membership of the ESO will therefore be a useful complement to the work we can do from the Islands.

The ESO was founded in 1962 and has 11 member countries: Germany (where its headquarters are located), France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Holland, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland. With its entry into this group Spain gains access to the ESO facilities at La Silla and Cerro Paranal in Chile. At the latter site is the VLT installation, which comprises four 8.2 metre telescopes linked by high precision systems.

The cost of entry into the ESO is 66 million euros, 25% of which will be generated by providing "time for scientific projects (observation time at the GTC) and technical time, since scientists from the European Southern Observatory will be able to use the GTC to learn about segmented primary mirror telescopes, the predominant technology of the future. They will gain detailed information about how to align the mosaic of segments so that they work together as a single mirror," Mr Rodriguez Espinosa said.

In return, Spanish scientists will be involved in developing technology for future telescopes and cameras, and Spain's young astronomers will be able to apply for grants from the ESO. Spain will receive an annual allocation of 10 million euros for this, although only half will be paid in 2006 as membership will not become effective until the middle of the year.

More information: ESO Press Release
http://www.eso.org/outreach/press-rel/pr-2006/pr-05-06.html

Natalia R. Zelman

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