Press Release

Recent Developments Around the ESO Very Large Telescope

20 December 1993

The ESO Council [1] took a number of important decisions in its December 1993 meeting. In particular, it unanimously agreed to proceed with the modified plan for the construction of the ESO Very Large Telescope at the Paranal mountain in Chile.

This plan has been prepared by the organisation during the past year, i.e. at about half-time of this enormous project, which was approved by Council in December 1987 [2]. During the intervening years, quite a few, new technologies have appeared which, if installed, would increase the performance of the VLT. At the same time, the future users of this giant telescope, the European astronomers, have frequently expressed a desire to expand its instrumental capabilities, leading to several concepts for further enhancements of the original project. The VLT is the largest project ever undertaken in ground-based astronomy, both in terms of mirror area (more than 200 m2) and financial volume (now approaching 500 million DEM).

The ESO Director General, Professor Riccardo Giacconi, expresses satisfaction about Council's decision: "Knowing that we are fully backed by all of the ESO member states for the execution of this unique astronomy project is decisive for the ultimate success. In view of the great complexity of the VLT, the present postponement of certain parts of the project is not unreasonable -the most important is that European astronomers can look forward with confidence to gain access to their new super-telescope within a foreseeable time."

The VLT Project

In a special meeting in early October 1993, Council had already expressed its approval of some of the most important aspects of the modified plan, including the content, schedule and staff. However, certain financial aspects led to some concern being expressed by the ESO Finance Committee in its November 1993 meeting, and a number of additional modifications were introduced in order to reduce further the spending profile of the VLT project during the next years. This revised plan has no\v been approved by the ESO Council.

The main implications are, that while the four 8.2-metre unit telescopes will be built as originally foreseen with the appropriate instrumentation, it has been decided to postpone the implementation of the VLT Interferometer, the VLT Interferometer Sub-Array (VISA), the Coude Train and the associated adaptive optics.

In consultation with the Scientific Technical Committee, ESO is now seeking the optimal solution for introduction of adaptive optics at the other foci at the unit telescopes. It is also the expressed intention to reintroduce full Coude and interferometric capabilities at the earliest possible moment.

VLT Schedule

The adoption of the modified VLT plan now foresees that the construction at Paranal of the VLT telescope buildings and the necessary infrastructure will begin within one or two months. All of the originally planned tunnels, laboratory space, etc.. including those necessary for the functions whose execution is being postponed, will be constructed.

It is expected that the "first light" for the first 8.2-metre unit telescope will happen in early 1997. The other three will follow in the years thereafter.

New appointments

Council elected Dr. Peter Creola (Switzerland) as its President and Dr. Catherine Cesarsky (France) as Vice-President, both for the next three-year period (1994 -1996).

Council also appointed Dr. Jacqueline Bergeron as ESO Associate Director for Science. Dr. Bergeron is presently at the Paris Observatory, France, and is also General Secretary of the International Astronomical Union. She will take up her new duties at the ESO Headquarters in Garching in the course of 1994.

Council moreover appointed Professor Piero Benvenuti as Head of the newly created Data Management Division for an initial period of one year. Professor Benvenuti will continue as Head of the ESO/ESA European Coordinating Facility for the Space Telescope, located since the establishment in 1986 at the ESO Headquarters.


[1] The Council of ESO consists of two representatives from each of the eight member states. It is the highesl. authority of the organisation and normally meets twice a year.

[2] See ESO Press Release eso8717 of 8 December 1987.


Richard West
Garching, Germany

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About the Release

Release No.:eso9313
Legacy ID:PR 09/93
Name:Cerro Paranal, Very Large Telescope
Type:Unspecified : Technology : Observatory
Facility:Very Large Telescope