Belgian Involvement with the European Southern Observatory

Belgium was one of the five founding members of the European Southern Observatory (ESO): it signed the ESO convention almost 50 years ago, on 5 October 1962. Here follows some information about Belgium's involvement with ESO as per December 2011.

Discoveries by Belgian astronomers using ESO telescopes

Belgian astronomers and astronomers from Belgian institutions make extensive use of ESO facilities. They publish on average 60 scientific papers each year in specialised, refereed astronomical journals.

ESO science press releases from recent years that have involved Belgian astronomers and astronomers working at Belgian institutes include:

  • The Belgian TRAPPIST telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory contributed to the accurate measurement of dwarf planet Eris’s size (eso1142);
  • Discs were discovered around aged stars using the VLTI by a team led by Katholieke Universiteit Leuven astronomers (eso0743); this discovery has profound implications for the understanding of the formation of planetary nebula, the end-of-life stage of Sun-like stars;
  • A bright quasar was discovered without the customary massive hot galaxy surrounding it, by a team led by University of Liège astronomers (eso0529);
  • Belgian astronomers (from University of Liège and Vrije Universiteit Brussel) were involved in the international campaign that supported the space mission Deep Impact to Comet Tempel 1 (eso0523).

Number of Belgian astronomers and staff working at ESO

There are currently 21 Belgian nationals employed at ESO, 13 in Garching and the remainder at the Chile sites.

Belgian contributions to ESO

Belgium has contributed to many aspects of ESO. In the following sections we list some of the largest contracts placed relating to the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) on  the Chajnantor plateau in the Chilean Andes, the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) on Cerro Paranal and the planned European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) to be built on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal.

To date, contracts totalling almost three million euro have been awarded by ESO to Belgian industry since 2006. Additionally, Belgian companies were also involved in subcontracts for almost two million euro over the same period.

The single largest contract with a Belgian company as a prime contractor is that with AMOS S.A. for the supply of the four Auxiliary Telescopes for the VLT.

Other Belgian companies with significant involvement with ESO include:

Belgian contributions to the E-ELT  

Belgium has had continuous involvement in the design of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) and will likely continue this involvement when ESO moves into the construction phase.

The main E-ELT related contracts already awarded to Belgian institutions include:

  • the primary mirror control algorithms; University of Liège;
  • the design of the pre-focal station; AMOS.

ESO has already spent approximately two million Euros in Belgium during the E-ELT design phase.