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Published by: European Southern Observatory on May 08, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The Messenger
No. 132 \u2013 June 2008
The Messenger 132 \u2013 June 2008
The Organisation
Tim de Zeeuw
(ESO Director General)

This issue o\ue001 the Messenger marks the
tenth anniversary o\ue001 \ue000rst light o\ue001 the Very
Large Telescope. It is an excellent occa\u00ad
sion to look at the broader implications
o\ue001 the VLT\u2019s success and to consider the
next steps.

ESO\u2019s mission is to enable scienti\ue000c dis\u00ad
coveries by constructing and operating
power\ue001ul observational \ue001acilities that

are beyond the capabilities o\ue001 individual
member states. This principle was under\u00ad
stood right at the start in 1962, when
Belgium, France, Germany, Sweden and
the Netherlands created ESO (with
Denmark joining in 1967) to build a large
telescope in the South. The main moti\u00ad

vation was the need to be able to com\u00ad

pete scienti\ue000cally with astronomers in
Cali\ue001ornia who had access to large private
telescopes, most notably the 5\u00adm Hale
telescope on Mount Palomar, known as
the \u2018Big Eye\u2019, and considered by many
to be \u2018The Per\ue001ect Machine\u2019 o\ue001 its time. In
the United States o\ue001 America, the same

motivation had already led in 1957 to the

creation o\ue001 AURA, the Association o\ue001
Universities \ue001or Research in Astronomy,
which resulted in the Kitt Peak and Cerro
Tololo Observatories, each including a
4\u00adm telescope and supported by the
National Science Foundation. In Europe
the ESO mission resulted in the con\u00ad
struction o\ue001 the La Silla Observatory north
o\ue001 La Serena in Chile, operating a feet
o\ue001 telescopes, with the 3.6\u00adm as fagship.

The Very Large Telescope
By the early 1980\u2019s there were hal\ue001\u00ada\u00ad

dozen observatories with 4\u00adm\u00adclass tele\u00ad
scopes available to astronomers world\u00ad
wide, La Silla being one o\ue001 them. Plans
were being drawn\u00adup to construct much
more power\ue001ul telescopes with primary
mirrors in the 8\u201310\u00adm range. The Keck
Foundation enabled the Cali\ue001ornia Insti\u00ad
tute o\ue001 Technology and the University o\ue001
Cali\ue001ornia to build twin 10\u00adm telescopes
on Mauna Kea, obtaining \ue000rst light in
the early nineties, providing, in particular,

a ground\u00adbased spectroscopic comple\u00ad
ment to the Hubble Space Telescope.
Italy and Switzerland had joined ESO in
1981, enabling the construction o\ue001 the
3.5\u00adm New Technology Telescope with
pioneering advances in active optics,
crucial \ue001or the next step: the construction
o\ue001 the Very Large Telescope, which
received the green light \ue001rom Council in
1987 and was built on Cerro Paranal in
the Atacama desert between Anto\ue001agasta
and Taltal in Northern Chile. The 8.1\u00adm
Gemini telescopes and the 8.3\u00adm Subaru
telescope were constructed on a similar
time scale, while the Large Binocular Tele\u00ad
scope and the Gran Telescopio Canarias
are now starting operations.

The VLT was designed \ue001rom the start as

an integrated system o\ue001 \ue001our 8.2\u00adm tele\u00ad
scopes, including the possibility to com\u00ad
bine the light \ue001rom individual telescopes
\ue001or optical inter\ue001erometry, enabling stu\u00ad
pendous spatial resolution. First light on
Antu occurred in May 1998, with Kueyen,
Melipal and Yepun \ue001ollowing soon a\ue001ter.
Most o\ue001 the VLT and VLTI instruments
were built in close collaboration with insti\u00ad
tutes in the member states. The entire
\ue000rst\u00adgeneration instrument suite was com\u00ad
pleted in 2007 with the commissioning
o\ue001 CRIRES. The Paranal arsenal includes
turnkey adaptive optics systems and
a rapid\u00adresponse mode to react to \ue001ast
transient events. Recently, the near\u00ad
in\ue001rared imager HAWK\u00adI was added as a
\u2018generation\u00ad1.5\u2019 instrument.

The VLT and VLTI have contributed to all
areas o\ue001 astronomy, including the nature
o\ue001 dark matter and dark energy, the ex\u00ad
treme physics o\ue001 gamma\u00adray bursts and
supernovae, the \ue001ormation, structure
and evolution o\ue001 galaxies, the properties
o\ue001 super\u00admassive black holes in galactic
nuclei, in particular the one in the Galac\u00ad
tic Centre, o\ue001 star clusters and stellar
populations, o\ue001 the interstellar and inter\u00ad
galactic medium, the \ue001ormation o\ue001 stars
and planets, the properties o\ue001 exo\u00ad
planets, and o\ue001 Solar System objects. The
output in terms o\ue001 re\ue001ereed research
papers was 469 in 2007 alone, bring\u00ad
ing the total since \ue000rst light to over 2 200,
with the annual rate still increasing.

The total number o\ue001 observing proposals \ue001or ESO \ue001acilities has doubled in the past decade, and now approaches nearly a

thousand each semester, 800 o\ue001 which
are \ue001or Paranal. The User Portal has
about 4 000 registered users and
the archive contains 74 TB o\ue001 data and
advanced data products.

Winning strategy

The VLT opened \ue001or business some \ue000ve
years a\ue001ter the Keck telescopes, but the
decision to take the time to build a \ue001ully
integrated system, consisting o\ue001 \ue001our
8.2\u00adm telescopes and providing a dozen
\ue001oci \ue001or a care\ue001ully thought\u00adout comple\u00ad
ment o\ue001 instruments together with \ue001our
1.8\u00adm Auxiliary Telescopes \ue001or the inter\u00ad
\ue001erometer, was the right one. The combi\u00ad

nation o\ue001 a long\u00adterm adequately\u00ad\ue001unded

instrument and technology development
plan, with an approach where most o\ue001
the instruments were built in collaboration
with institutions in the member states,
with in\u00adkind contributions in labour com\u00ad
pensated by guaranteed observing time,
has created the most advanced ground\u00ad
based optical observatory in the world.
The operations model distinguishes visi\u00ad
tor and service mode, and provides
world\u00adleading observing e\ue001\ue000ciency on a
site where nearly 90 % o\ue001 the nights are
clear. All o\ue001 this was made possible by the
motivation o\ue001 ESO sta\ue001\ue001 members to build,
operate and support the best possible

observatory. As a result, the VLT is argua\u00ad

bly the natural successor o\ue001 the \u2018Per\ue001ect
Machine\u2019 on Mount Palomar. Our 2007
Visiting Committee, chaired by Pro\ue001essor
G\u00fcnther Hasinger, stated it thus: \u201cESO
has become the premier observatory \ue001or
optical\u00adin\ue001rared astronomy on a world\u00ad
wide basis.\u201d

The stunning scienti\ue000c success o\ue001 the VLT
attracted new member states to ESO.
In the past decade Portugal joined (a\ue001ter
a ten\u00adyear associate status), \ue001ollowed by
the United Kingdom, Finland, Spain and
the Czech Republic. At the time o\ue001 writ\u00ad
ing it looks likely that Austria will join later
this year (see text o\ue001 Press Release on
page 5). These countries are drawn to
ESO because o\ue001 the unique observing
opportunities and by the possibility to be

involved in a coherent long\u00adterm pro\u00ad

gramme involving the design, construc\u00ad tion and operation o\ue001 \ue001uture world\u00adclass ground\u00adbased \ue001acilities \ue001or astronomy.

As their annual contribution and entrance
The Per\ue001ect Machine
The Messenger 132 \u2013 June 2008

\ue001ee is added to ESO\u2019s income, the acces\u00ad
sion o\ue001 new member states also enables
new projects.

The next steps

The VLT will continue to increase in
power over the next decade. X\u00adShooter
will come on line this year, with KMOS,
SPHERE and MUSE to \ue001ollow, together
with multiple laser guide stars, an adap\u00ad
tive secondary mirror on Yepun, and
one or more third\u00adgeneration instruments,
including an ultra\u00adstable high\u00adresolution
spectrograph at the combined \ue001ocus
(as \ue001oreseen in the original VLT design).
The VLTI will be equipped with the sec\u00ad
ond\u00adgeneration instruments GRAVITY
and MATISSE, to be \ue001ollowed by VSI, the
latter perhaps with two additional Auxil\u00ad
iary Telescopes, i\ue001 external \ue001unding can
be \ue001ound.

VISTA and the VST are expected to start
regular operations next year with a \ue000ve\u00ad
year programme o\ue001 coherent public sur\u00ad
veys led by international teams. These
surveys are per\ue001ormed together with data
centres in the member states, coordi\u00ad
nated by ESO. This collaboration builds a
European survey capability which will
deliver eminent science, provides crucial
ground\u00adbased data in support o\ue001 \ue001uture
space missions, and prepares the way \ue001or
the next step in surveys.

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submilli\u00ad
meter Array is being constructed at
5 050\u00adm altitude on Chajnantor east o\ue001
San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile.

ALMA evolved \ue001rom separate regional
plans to a global partnership between
Europe, North America (USA and Can\u00ad
ada) and East Asia (Japan and Taiwan),
with ESO representing Europe. Partici\u00ad
pation in ALMA expands ESO\u2019s activities
into a wavelength regime o\ue001ten associ\u00ad
ated with radio astronomy. The \ue000rst step
has already been taken: ESO operates

APEX, a single\u00addish 12\u00adm antenna \ue001or sub\u00ad millimetre astronomy located on Chajnan\u00ad tor, in a partnership with Sweden and the Max\u00adPlanck\u00adGesellscha\ue001t.

ALMA construction is well underway.
ESO has delivered key components,
including the Technical Building \ue001or the
Observing Support Facility at 2 950 m,
and two antenna transporters (see the
article on page 23). Institutes in the
member states are providing the Band 7
and Band 9 high\u00ad\ue001requency receivers
and \ue001ront\u00adend integration \ue001or the 66 ALMA

antennas. The 25 12\u00adm antennas to be

delivered by European industry are be\u00ad
hind schedule, with the \ue000rst one arriving
in Chile in the \ue000rst hal\ue001 o\ue001 2009, where
Japan and North America already have
\ue001our antennas each at the OSF being
readied \ue001or acceptance. The hope is that
the schedule slip can be recovered
through a speedy delivery o\ue001 the later
antennas. The creation o\ue001 the ALMA
European Regional Centre, with nodes in
many o\ue001 the member states, will help
prepare the European astronomical com\u00ad
munity \ue001or leadership in ALMA sci\u00ad

ence exploitation, building on expertise
with existing sub\u00admillimetre telescopes,
including APEX, and on science to
be done with the 3.5\u00adm Herschel Space
Obser vatory, which ESA expects to
launch in 2009.

The next world\u00adclass ground\u00adbased \ue001acil\u00ad
ity is the European Extremely Large
Telescope \ue001or the visible/in\ue001rared wave\u00ad
length regime. ESO is undertaking the
design study, in close collaboration with
industry and institutes in the member
states. The baseline design consists o\ue001 a

42\u00adm segmented primary mirror, an inno\u00ad

vative \ue000ve\u00admirror design, and adaptive
optics built into the telescope. The study
draws on the entire expertise built up in
ESO and the member states over the
past decades, including lessons learned
\ue001rom ALMA construction. The aim is to
be ready \ue001or a construction start in 2010,
so that there is an opportunity \ue001or over\u00ad
lap with the James Webb Space Tele\u00ad
scope, which is the next NASA/ESA/CSA
fagship \ue001acility.

This combined programme is ambitious,
but achievable by building on the \u2018VLT
model\u2019 in which high\u00adquality sta\ue001\ue001 carries
out a coherent programme in close
collaboration with scientists and institu\u00ad
tions in the member states, with long\u00ad
term planning enabled by the security o\ue001
an intergovernmental treaty.

ESO continues to attract and train high\u00ad
quality sta\ue001\ue001 both in Chile and in Garching.
In the past eight months I spent a \ue001air
The VLT as it is today
with \ue001our Unit Telescopes
and \ue001our Auxiliary Tele\u00ad

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