The Particle Physics and
Astronomy Research Council (PPARC)
, the UK’s strategic science
investment agency, today announced that the government of the
United Kingdom is making funds available that provide a baseline for
this country to join the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

The ESO Director General, Dr. Catherine Cesarsky, and the
ESO Community warmly welcome this move towards fuller integration in
European astronomy. “With the UK as a potential member country of
ESO, our joint opportunities for front-line research and technology
will grow significantly”, she said. “This announcement is a clear sign
of confidence in ESO’s abilities, most recently demonstrated with the
construction and operation of the unique Very Large
Telescope (VLT)
on Paranal. Together we will look
forward with confidence towards new, exciting projects in ground-based

It was decided earlier this year to place the 4-m UK Visible and Infrared
Survey Telescope (VISTA)
at Paranal, cf. ESO Press Release 03/00.

Following negotiations between ESO and PPARC, a detailed proposal
for the associated UK/ESO Agreement with the various entry modalities
will now be presented to the ESO Council for approval. Before this
Agreement can enter into force, the ESO Convention and associated
protocols must also be ratified by the UK Parliament.

Research and key technologies

According to the PPARC press release, increased funding for
science, announced by the UK government today, will enable UK
astronomers to prepare for the next generation of telescopes and
expand their current telescope portfolio through membership of the
European Southern Observatory (ESO).

The uplift to its baseline budget will enable PPARC to enter into
final negotiations for UK membership of the ESO. This will ensure
that UK astronomers, together with their colleagues in the ESO member
states, are actively involved in global scale preparations for the
next generation of astronomy facilities. among these are ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter
in Chile and the very large optical/infrared telescopes
now undergoing conceptual studies.

ESO membership will give UK astronomers access to the suite of four
world-class 8.2-meter VLT Unit Telescopes at the Paranal Observatory
(Chile), as well as other state-of-the-art facilities at ESO’s other
observatory at La Silla. Through PPARC the UK already participates in
joint collaborative European science programmes such as CERN and the
European Space Agency (ESA), which have already proved their value on
the world scale. Joining ESO will consolidate this policy, strengthen
ESO and enhance the future vigour of European astronomy.


Commenting on the funding announcement, Prof. Ian Halliday,
PPARC’s CEO, said that "this new funding will ensure our
physicists and astronomers remain at the forefront of international
research – leading in discoveries that push back the frontiers of
knowledge – and the UK economy will also benefit through the provision
of highly trained people and the resulting advances in IT and
commercial spin-offs

Prof. Mike Edmunds, UCW Cardiff, and Chairman of the UK
Astronomy Review Panel which recently set out a programme of
opportunities and priorities for the next 10 – 20 years added that
"this is excellent news for UK science and lays the foundation
for cutting edge research over the next ten years. British
astronomers will be delighted by the Government’s rapid and positive
response to their case.

Speaking on behalf of the ESO Organisation and the community of
more than 2500 astronomers in the ESO member states [2], the ESO Director General, Dr. Catherine
, declared: “When ESO was created in 1962, the UK
decided not to join, because of access to other facilities in the
Southern Hemisphere. But now ESO has developed into one of the world’s
main astronomical organisations, with top technology and operating the
VLT at Paranal, the largest and most efficient optical/infrared
telescope facility in the world. We look forward to receiving our UK
colleagues in our midst and work together on the realization of future
cutting-edge projects.”

Joining ESO was considered a top priority for UK astronomy
following a community report to the UK Long Term Science Review, which
set out a programme of opportunities and priorities for PPARC science
over the next 10 to 20 years. The report is available on the web at


Richard M. West
Garching (Germany)
Tel: +4989-32006276

Peter Barratt
Head of Publicity
Tel.: +44 (0)1793 442025


[1] This Press Release is issued in conjunction
with a communication from the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research
Council (PPARC)
, the strategic science investment agency of
the United Kingdom. The full text is available on the web via the
PPARC site at:

[2]The ESO member states are Belgium, Denmark,
France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and
Switzerland. Portugal has signed an agreement about membership and
will join shortly.