Due to a happy coincidence, the ESO/ST-ECF Science Archive
is celebrating three different milestones at the same

  • its 10th anniversary since the establishment in 1991 the 10,000th request for data, and the signing-up of active user number 2000.

    This Archive contains over 8 Terabytes (1 Terabyte = 1
    million million bytes) of valuable observational data from the
    NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope (HST), the ESO Very Large Telescope
    (VLT) and other ESO telescopes

    Its success paves the way for the establishment of “Virtual
    from which first-class data can be obtained by
    astronomers all over the world. This greatly enhances the
    opportunities for more (young) scientists to participate in front-line

    Just 10 years ago, on the 1st of January 1991, the ESO/ST-ECF (European Southern
    Observatory/Space Telescope-European Coordinating Facility) Science
    Archive Facility
    opened. It has since served the astronomical
    community with gigabyte after gigabyte of high-quality astronomical
    data from some of the world’s leading telescopes.

    The Archive, which is located in Garching, just outside Munich
    (Germany), contains data from the 2.4-m NASA/ESA Hubble Space
    , as well as from several ESO telescopes: the four
    8.2-m Unit Telescopes of the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at
    the Paranal Observatory
    , and the 3.5-m New
    Technology Telescope (NTT)
    , the 3.6-m
    and the MPG/ESO
    2.2-m telescope
    at La

    The Archive is a continuously developing project – in terms of
    amounts of data stored, the number of users and in particular because
    of the current dramatic development of innovative techniques for data
    handling and storage.

    In the year 2000 more than 2 Terabytes (2000 Gigabytes) of data
    were distributed to users worldwide.

    The archiving of VLT data has been described in ESO PR 10/99.

    Celebrating the 10th anniversary

    Due to a happy coincidence, the Archive passes two other milestones
    almost exactly at the time of its ten-year anniversary: the
    10,000th request for data has just arrived, and active user number
    2000 has just signed up to start using the Archive

    Dataset number 10000 was requested by Danish astronomer
    Søren Larsen who works at the University of California
    (USA). He asked for images of galaxies taken with the Hubble Space
    Telescope and expressed great satisfaction with the material: “The
    extremely sharp images from Hubble have provided a quantum leap
    forward in our ability to study star clusters in external galaxies. We
    now know that some galaxies contain extremely bright young star
    clusters. These might constitute a “link” between open and globular
    clusters as we know them in the Milky Way galaxy in which we live. We
    are now trying to understand whether all these clusters really form in
    the same basic way.”

    Active user number 2000 is Swiss astronomer
    Frédéric Pont, working at the Universidad de
    Chile: “We use observations from the ESO VLT Unit Telescopes to map
    the chemical and star-formation history of dwarf galaxies in the Local
    Group. The stars we are looking at are very faint and we simply need
    the large size and excellent quality of VLT to observe them in
    detail. With the new data, we can really move forward in this
    fundamental research field.”

    To celebrate this special occasion, a 4-page brochure has
    been prepared that describes the Archive and its various services. The
    brochure can be requested from ESO or ST-ECF and is now available in
    PDF format
    on the web.

    As a small token, the two astronomers will receive a commemorative
    version of the photo that accompanies this release.

    The ASTROVIRTEL initiative

    One of the major new initiatives undertaken by ESO and ST-ECF in
    connection with the ESO/ST-ECF Science Archive is ASTROVIRTEL (Accessing
    Astronomical Archives as Virtual Telescopes)
    , cf. ESO PR 09/00. It is a project aimed at
    helping scientists to cope efficiently with the massive amounts of
    data now becoming available from the world’s leading telescopes and so
    to exploit the true potential of the Archive treasures.

    ASTROVIRTEL represents the European effort in an area that
    many astronomers considers one of the most important developments
    within observing astronomy in the past decade.

    The future

    The head of the ESO/ST-ECF Science Archive Facility,
    Benoît Pirenne, believes that the future holds exciting
    challenges: “Due to the many improvements of the ESO, NASA and ESA
    telescopes and instruments expected in the coming years, we anticipate
    a tremendous increase in the amount of data to be archived and
    re-distributed. It will not be too long before we will have to start
    counting storage space in Petabytes (1 Petabyte = 1,000 Terabytes).
    We are now trying to figure out how to best prepare for this new

    But he is also concerned with maintaining and further enhancing the
    astronomical value of the data that are made available to the users:
    “Apart from improving the data storage, we need to invest much
    effort in building automatic software that will help users with the
    tedious pre-processing and ‘cleaning’ of the data, thereby allowing
    them to focus more on scientific than technical problems.”

    Important dates

    10-year anniversary of the Archive: 1.1.2001
    10,000th data request: 17.11.2000
    2000th active user: 10.12.2000


    Benoît Pirenne
    Head of ESO/ST-ECF Science Archive
    Phone +49-(0)89-3200-6433

    Lars Lindberg Christensen
    Hubble European Space Agency
    Information Centre (Garching, Germany)
    Cellular (24 hr): +49-(0)173-38-72-621

    Richard West
    ESO Education and PR Dept.


    [1] This is a joint Press Release by the European Southern Observatory
    and the European Space
    Agency (ESA)