ESO Introduces the Cosmic Gems Programme

Using ESO telescopes to make new astronomical images

24 August 2011

ESO is announcing a new initiative to produce spectacular astronomical images using small amounts of time on the organisation’s telescopes for the purposes of education and public outreach. This will allow ESO to continue to supply the public with spectacular colour pictures, and maintain its world-leading position in astronomy education and outreach.

The first image to come out of this initiative shows a peculiar pair of galaxies — and is a stunning testament to the optical quality of the VLT and the skies over the Paranal Observatory.

In this initiative, ESO’s Director General has granted dedicated observing time for outreach purposes as part of the ESO Director’s Discretionary Time programme. The small amount of time provided is mostly “low-grade time” — when the clouds roll in or there are moonlit skies not requested for science observations, and the telescopes might otherwise be idle. The data collected are also made available to professional astronomers through ESO’s science archive.

The objects targeted by this programme are selected from a series of astronomical catalogues and lists of beautiful objects. The team responsible for the project chose the most visually attractive, particularly interesting or intriguing, objects. Care was also taken to ensure there was no similar image already available in ESO’s outreach archive or from other professional or amateur telescopes.

This is a similar strategy to that adopted by the very successful Heritage programme, which has been acquiring spectacular high quality outreach images from the Hubble Space Telescope since 1997.

The Cosmic Gems team consists of outreach and imaging specialists, scientists and members of ESO’s Operations team:

  • Olivier Hainaut, ePOD, project coordinator
  • Yuri Beletsky, Paranal Science Operations
  • Henri Boffin, Paranal Science Operations
  • Lars Lindberg Christensen, ePOD
  • Richard Hook, ePOD
  • Ivo Saviane, Paranal Science Operation



Olivier Hainaut
Garching, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6752

Richard Hook
ESO, La Silla, Paranal, E-ELT and Survey Telescopes Public Information Officer
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6655

Lars Lindberg Christensen
Garching, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6761
Cell: +49 173 3872 621

About the Announcement