A delegation from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) recently visited Australia between 28 November and 2 December 2022. The delegation was led by Professor Xavier Barcons (ESO Director General) and included Professor Linda Tacconi (ESO Council President) Ms Laura Comendador Frutos (Head of Executive Office of the Director General), and Professor Rob Ivison (ESO Director for Science). Their visit was hosted by the Department of Industry, Science and Resources.
While in Australia, the ESO delegation visited sites in Perth, Canberra and Sydney, starting in Perth at the University of Western Australia / ICRAR and Pawsey Supercomputing Centre. Travelling to Canberra, the delegation then had several engagements at ANU (on the main campus and at AITC, Mt Stromlo), while their time in Sydney at the end of the visit saw them attend events at Macquarie University and the University of Sydney. The Macquarie event focused on Data and Computing while the session at the University of Sydney centered around industry engagement and commercialisation.
This visit served as a catalyst for developing multilateral relationships with several Australian government departments. Representatives from these departments were able to personally engage with the delegation from ESO and the astronomy community – discussing the current Strategic Partnership (brokered by the Government in 2016), its achievements and future synergies, while exploring the opportunities for it to serve as a launchpad for full ESO membership in 2027.
This high-level visit by ESO also achieved several goals for our community – giving Australian astronomy the perfect opportunity for deeper engagement with the delegation while successfully showcasing the expanse of capability across astronomy in Australia – covering optical, radio, gravitational waves, and multi-messenger domains. Additionally, astronomers were able to demonstrate the Australian institutional capability across data and computing.
In terms of defining key outcomes, the visit gave astronomers greater clarity as to ESO’s current priorities and where opportunities may lie in future for collaboration. An example of this can be seen via ESO’s commitment to the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), which is currently under construction, and its associated instruments. While this may be ESO’s current focus, the delegation made it clear that they were very keen to discover other ways Australia could be involved, including how we could provide some assistance to this enormous undertaking (the ELT).
This feedback alone gave Australian astronomers and government officials useful insight into ESO’s priorities, challenges and future opportunities. Combined with the many other learnings emerging from the visit (including the opportunity for potential synergies between the SKA and ESO), Astronomy Australia Limited (AAL) will continue to work with the National Committee for Astronomy, the Astronomical Society of Australia and the community to prepare the case for full Australian membership of ESO.
These are exciting times and AAL is keen to keep the astronomy community informed of all important developments in this sector. ESO-specific email updates will be sent to all AAL members representatives (starting in 2023), but if you also wish to be kept apprised personally, AAL invites you to subscribe to our email updates – please click on this link to do so. AAL will also be delivering more regular institutional member updates to keep astronomers informed – please keep an eye out for our talks when they are advertised internally to your department.