ESO, the European Southern Observatory, is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world's most productive astronomical observatory. ESO provides state-of-the-art research facilities to astronomers and is supported by Austria, Belgium, Brazil*, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Several other countries have expressed an interest in membership.
ESO's main mission, laid down in the 1962 Convention, is to provide state-of-the-art research facilities to astronomers and astrophysicists, allowing them to conduct front-line science in the best conditions. The annual member state contributions to ESO are approximately 131 million Euros and ESO employs around 730 staff members. By building and operating a suite of the world's most powerful ground-based astronomical telescopes enabling important scientific discoveries, ESO offers numerous possibilities for technology spin-off and transfer, together with high technology contract opportunities and is a dramatic showcase for European industry.
Whilst the Headquarters (comprising the scientific, technical and administrative centre of the organisation) are located in Garching near Munich, Germany, ESO operates, in addition to the Santiago Centre, three unique observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor.
At La Silla, ESO operates several medium-sized optical telescopes, including the most successful low-mass exoplanet hunter. The Very Large Telescope (VLT), the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory, is located on the 2600 m high mountain of Paranal, which also hosts the VLT Interferometer and two survey telescopes, the VST and VISTA. The third site is the 5000 m high Llano de Chajnantor, near San Pedro de Atacama. Here a submillimetre telescope (APEX) is in operation, and a revolutionary telescope – a giant array of 12 m submillimetre antennas (ALMA) – is being constructed in collaboration with North America, East Asia and ChileESO is planning a 4039-metre-class European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.
"An almost unique level of international cooperation is achieved at ESO, and everything is done by those who can do it best, irrespective of their country or institution. This spirit of excellence is an example for all Europe."
Sites in Chile