The year 2001 brought further success to European Astronomy and
ESO. All of the four 8.2-m Unit Telescopes of the Very Large
Telescope (VLT) are now in regular use and the VLT Interferometer
(VLTI) had "first fringes" early in the year. The first
tests were made with two small telescopes and later the light beams
from two of the large telescopes were combined. The first scientific
observations proved the extraordinary stability of the complex VLTI
system and already produced excellent results.

The Adaptive Optics technique was introduced at the VLT when the
new NAOS-CONICA instrument had "First Light" in November.
The sharpest-ever VLT images were obtained and immediately
demonstrated the enormous potential for exciting front-line research
programmes with this new facility.

An extraordinary amount of first-class data were obtained by the
astronomical communities in the ESO member countries and beyond from
the VLT and other ESO telescopes. They resulted in numerous new
discoveries and hundreds of articles in the professional literature –
some of them were also presented to the public in ESO Press

Portugal became the ninth ESO member country. The UK decided to
join ESO by mid-2002 and other countries expressed interest.

Japan moved closer to the intercontinental ALMA project and ESO
continued its concept studies for a future 100-metre optical/IR
telescope (OWL).

The ESO Educational Office was established in July 2001. The aim
is to provide support for astronomical and astrophysical education,
especially at the secondary level. The Europe-wide, EU-sponsored
"Life in the Universe" educational project was successfully
accomplished, in collaboration with CERN, ESA and other international
research organisations.

At the end of a hectic and fruitful year, ESO and its staff in
Europe and Chile can be optimistic about the future. New
state-of-the-art astronomical instruments will be mounted on the ESO
telescopes at La Silla and Paranal in 2002, further enhancing the
great research possibilities at these sites. And this year will also
see further development of Europe’s Astrophysical Virtual
Observatory, a most powerful research tool of the future.

Many of these developments are described in ESO’s Press
, most with Press Photos and several also with
PR Video Clips, cf. the 2001 PR
. Some of last year’s ESO PR highlights may be accessed
directly via the clickable image on the present page.