ESO Celebrates 1000th Press Release

18 September 2013

The press release this week, a new image of the Prawn Nebula, is a small milestone in itself —  it is ESO’s 1000th press release. This impressive number is a reflection of ESO’s status as the most productive ground-based astronomy organisation in the world in terms of number of scientific papers produced [1]. On a coincidental note, this week also marks the release of ESO’s 10 000th scientific paper.

The ESO outreach department, which is behind ESO’s public communication, was created in 1986, during the exciting period of the 1985–86 Halley apparition, making it one of the oldest astronomical outreach departments in the world. It started life with a somewhat different remit under the name of the ESO Information and Photographic Service (IPS, reflecting the origins of key staff in the former ESO Sky Atlas Laboratory).

With growing experience came the realisation that information for the public was a commodity that must be carefully managed, and the department changed its name first to the ESO Education and Public Relations Department (EPR), then to the ESO Public Affairs Department (PAD) and finally to ESO education and Public Outreach Department (ePOD, merged with ESA’s Hubble outreach and the IAU press offices). Curiously the department has always been led by Danes, first by comet expert Richard West (of Comet West fame), then Claus Madsen, and since 2008 by Lars Lindberg Christensen. This may however be one of the only fixed points, since the field of astronomy communication has undergone enormous changes since the first press releases were issued by post, and later by telefax.

The first press release from ESO’s outreach department showed a grainy black and white view of Halley’s Comet forming a tail, as photographed in 1985 by the ESO 1-metre Schmidt telescope at La Silla. Other notable press releases through the years include those marking the explosive meeting of Shoemaker-Levy 9 and Jupiter in 1994, the first light at VLT in 1998, the approval of E-ELT by the ESO Council in 2012 and the inauguration of ALMA in 2013. Many scientific firsts have been announced, including the world’s first direct image of an exoplanet, the first ever visible-light observation of a short-duration gamma ray burst and the first atmospheric spectrum of an exoplanet.


[1] This is probably also the largest number of press release issued from any astronomical observatory.



Richard Hook
Public Information Officer, ESO education and Public Outreach Department
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
Cell: +49 151 1537 3591

About the Announcement



ESO's 1000th press release celebrated
ESO's 1000th press release celebrated