eso0748 — Organisation Release
Commissioner Potočnik at Paranal Observatory
European Commissioner for Science and Research visits ESO's Very Large Telescope
27 October 2007
As part of his first official trip to Brazil and Chile, the European Science and Research Commissioner, Janez Potočnik, visited Europe's flagship for ground-based astronomy, the ESO Paranal Observatory.
The major facility atop the 2600m high Paranal mountain in the Chilean Atacama Desert is the Very Large Telescope (VLT), whose design, instrument complement and operating principles set the standard for ground-based optical and infrared astronomy. The VLT Interferometer (VLTI) enhances the capabilities of this unique facility even further as do the survey telescopes VST (optical) and VISTA (infrared). Publication statistics show that the VLT provides data for a scientific paper every day, all year round.
The Commissioner was accompanied, among others, by Jaime Pérez Vidal, Head of Delegation of the European Commission (EC) to Chile, Mary Minch and Cornelia Nauen, respectively Director and Principal Administrator of International Scientific Cooperation for the EC, and Hervé Peró, Head of EC Unit Research Infrastructures.
The visitors were able to acquaint themselves with the VLT during an overnight stay at this remote site. The guests were welcomed by the ESO Director General, Tim de Zeeuw, the ESO Representative in Chile, Felix Mirabel, and the Director of the Paranal Observatory, Andreas Kaufer, as well as ESO staff members of many nationalities.
The visitors were shown the various frontline installations at the observatory, including many of the distinctive VLT astronomical instruments that have been built in collaboration between ESO and European research institutes. The Commissioner was provided with a good impression of the wide range of exciting research programmes that are carried out with the VLT.
Having enjoyed the spectacular sunset over the Pacific Ocean from the Paranal platform, the Commissioner visited the VLT Control Room from where the four 8.2-m Unit Telescopes and the VLTI are operated. Here, the Commissioner was invited to participate in an observing sequence at the console of one of the 8.2-m Unit Telescopes of the VLT.
"I've been very impressed with what I've seen at the ESO observatory," said Commissioner Potočnik. "Quite apart from the fascinating science being carried out here, Paranal shows what we can achieve when we work together. It is this sort of co-operative endeavour that I am keen to develop as a result of this visit to Chile."
"I'm delighted about the visit of the Commissioner and to show him first-hand the wonderful science-machine that ESO has designed, has built, and operates for European astronomy", said Tim de Zeeuw. "Indeed, the success of the VLT marks also a success for the European Research Area. With the European participation in the global ALMA project, through ESO, we aim to build on this success and we look forward to taking the next step with the realisation of the Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT)."
The Commissioner's visit is part of an official trip to Chile and Brazil, both having very strong Science and Technology (S&T) links with the EU. The EU has established an ambitious bilateral relationship with Chile, with an S&T agreement dating back to 2002. ESO, the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere, has been present in Chile since the mid 1960s.
As set out in its convention, ESO provides state-of-the-art facilities for Europe's astronomers and promotes and organises cooperation in astronomical research. Today, ESO operates some of the world's largest and most advanced observational facilities at three sites in Northern Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. These are the best locations known in the southern hemisphere for astronomical observations. With other activities such as technology development, conferences and educational projects, ESO also plays a decisive role in forming a European Research Area for astronomy and astrophysics.
The ESO Very Large Telescope is the world's most advanced optical instrument, consisting of four Unit Telescopes with main mirrors of 8.2-m diameter and four movable 1.8-m Auxiliary Telescopes. The telescopes can work together, in groups of two or three, to form a giant 'interferometer', allowing astronomers to see details corresponding to those from a much larger telescope. The 8.2-m Unit Telescopes can also be used individually. With one such telescope, images of celestial objects as faint as magnitude 30 can be obtained in a one-hour exposure. This corresponds to seeing objects that are four billion times fainter than what can be seen with the unaided eye.
The first of the Unit Telescopes, 'Antu', went into routine scientific operations on 1 April 1999. Today, all four Unit Telescopes and all four Auxiliary Telescopes are operational, and the VLT has already made a huge impact on observational astronomy.
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