The Republic of Portugal will become the ninth member state
of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) [1].

Today, during a ceremony at the ESO Headquarters in Garching
(Germany), a corresponding Agreement was signed by the Portuguese
Minister of Science and Technology, José Mariano Gago
and the ESO Director General, Catherine Cesarsky, in the
presence of other high officials from Portugal and the ESO member

Following subsequent ratification by the Portuguese Parliament of
the ESO Convention and the associated protocols [2], it is foreseen that Portugal will formally join
this organisation on January 1, 2001.

Uniting European Astronomy

In his speech, the Portuguese Minister of Science and Technology,
José Mariano Gago, stated that “the accession of
Portugal to ESO is the result of a joint effort by ESO and Portugal
during the last ten years. It was made possible by the rapid
Portuguese scientific development and by the growth and
internationalisation of its scientific community.”

He continued: “Portugal is fully committed to European scientific
and technological development. We will devote our best efforts to the
success of ESO”.

Catherine Cesarsky, ESO Director General since 1999, warmly
welcomed the Portuguese intention to join ESO. “With the accession of
their country to ESO, Portuguese astronomers will have great
opportunities for working on research programmes at the frontiers of
modern astrophysics.”

“This is indeed a good time to join ESO”, she added. “The four 8.2-m VLT Unit
with their many first-class instruments are nearly
ready, and the VLT
will soon follow. With a decision about the
intercontinental millimetre-band ALMA project
expected next year and the first concept studies for gigantic
optical/infrared telescopes like OWL now well under
way at ESO, there is certainly no lack of perspectives, also for
coming generations of European astronomers!”

Portuguese astronomy: a decade of progress

The beginnings of the collaboration between Portugal and ESO, now
culminating in the imminent accession of that country to the European
research organisation, were almost exactly ten years ago.

On July 10, 1990, the Republic of Portugal and ESO signed a
Co-operation Agreement, aimed at full Portuguese membership of
the ESO organisation within the next decade. During the interim
period, Portuguese astronomers were granted access to ESO facilities
while the Portuguese government would provide support towards the
development of astronomy and the associated infrastructure in this

A joint Portuguese/ESO Advisory Body was set up to monitor the
development of Portuguese astronomy and its interaction with ESO. Over
the years, an increasing number of measures to strengthen the
Portuguese research infrastructure within astrophysics and related
fields were proposed and funded. More and more, mostly young
Portuguese astronomers began to make use of ESO’s facilities at the La Silla
and recently, of the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at

Now, ten years later, the Portuguese astronomical community is the
youngest in Europe with more than 90% of its PhD’s awarded during the
last eight years. As expected, the provisional access to ESO
telescopes – especially the Very Large Telescope (VLT) with its suite
of state-of-the-art instruments for observations at wavelengths
ranging from the UV to the mid-infrared – has proven to be a great
incentive to the Portuguese scientists.

As a clear demonstration of these positive developments, a very
successful Workshop entitled “Portugal –
was held in Lisbon on April 17-18, 2000. It was
primarily directed towards young Portuguese scientists and served to
inform them about the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) and the steadily
evolving, exciting research possibilities with this world-class


[1]: Current ESO member countries are Belgium,
Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and

[2]: The ESO Convention was established
in 1962 and specifies the goals of ESO and the means to achieve these,
e.g., “The Governments of the States parties to this
convention… desirous of jointly creating an observatory equipped
with powerful instruments in the Southern hemisphere and accordingly
promoting and organizing co-operation in astronomical research…”
(from the Preamble to the ESO Convention).