ESO and Society: How ESO benefits its Member States

ESO is a testament to research, innovation, and collaboration in Europe with a far reaching and invaluable impact on society. This page introduces some of ESO’s contributions to its Member States across five areas: science and engineering, economy and innovation, talent development, education and outreach, and international collaboration and policy. The publication “ESO’s Benefits to Society” explores the full breadth of ESO’s impact.



Science and Engineering

ESO and its telescopes have been instrumental in several ground-breaking discoveries. In 2020, for example, a Physics Nobel Prize was awarded for research on the Milky Way’s black hole done with ESO telescopes, and in 2011 the prize was awarded for the discovery of the accelerating Universe. ESO enables discoveries such as these by constructing and operating world-leading observatories, which push the boundaries of engineering. ESO’s telescopes and facilities are consistently in demand with high numbers of observing proposals received each year, and over 1000 publications using ESO data published per year.



Economy and Innovation

ESO innovations extend beyond the organisation’s remit; for example, techniques from MUSE, an instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, are being transferred for use in medicine and cancer diagnostics. ESO additionally provides economic benefits to society. For example, 80% of the construction budget of ESO’s ambitious and revolutionary upcoming telescope, the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), is spent on contracts with industry. In 2019, more than half of ESO’s budget was invested in the design and construction of telescopes and instruments. Over 90% of that was invested in high-tech innovation led by industry and research institutions in the Member States.  



Talent Development

ESO has played a crucial role in the enrichment and development of highly skilled astronomers, engineers and technical experts. In 2010–2020 alone, ESO has trained over 260 students from more than 40 countries in science and engineering, and hosts a number of postdoctoral fellows and interns. This expertise finds application in other areas of industry and public life, as ESO alumni go on to careers in education, business development, programme and project management, and media and communications.



Education and Outreach

ESO’s communication, education and outreach activities harness the innate curiosity about the Universe to increase scientific literacy in society, and to inspire more children to engage in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. Between 2010 and 2020, ESO has featured in 46 online press articles per day on average, and from 2018-2020 the ESO Supernova Planetarium & Visitor Centre has hosted 132 000 visitors to planetarium shows and 13 000 visitors on guided tours.



International Collaboration and Policy

As a collaborative and international organisation, ESO is able to bring countries together to create a scientific and political capacity for development that is beyond the reach of its individual Member States. ESO therefore stands out as a role model in research and development and is a cornerstone of the European Research Area in astronomy. ESO is also a member of the United Nations-mandated International Asteroid Warning Network which monitors the skies for potentially threatening asteroids. 



All of ESO's contributions to society are perfectly exemplified in the building of the ELT set to see first light this decade. ESO’s ELT will dramatically change what we know about our Universe and will make us rethink our place in the cosmos.

The full “ESO’s Benefits to Society” publication is available online

For ESO’s impact in its host country Chile, please visit this page.


Impact Infographics