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Securing the future of Australian optical astronomy

11 July 2017

The Australian Government has today entered a ‘big science’ strategic partnership to provide Australian astronomers with long-term access to the world’s best optical telescopes and sustain our place at the forefront of global optical astronomy.

Today’s signing of the Strategic Partnership with the European Southern Observatory (ESO) follows the announcement in the 2017–18 Budget of a 10‑year partnership with the ESO, a consortium comprising 15 member states, considered the world’s leading optical astronomy organisation.

The Government will invest $129 million over 10 years in the partnership.

This historic partnership will give our world-class astronomers access to the tools and collaboration opportunities they need to continue leading-edge discoveries that advance our understanding of the Universe.

The partnership, commencing in 2018, will allow Australian astronomers to use the 8‑metre telescopes at ESO’s La Silla and Paranal Observatories in the Atacama Mountains of Chile, among the world’s best sites for optical astronomy.

This agreement answers calls from the Australian astronomy community over several years for long-term access to large optical-infrared telescopes.

This important partnership with a world-class organisation will allow Australia to maintain its research excellence in this era of global astronomy, and provides crucial opportunities for Australian influence and technical and scientific input, stimulating international research and industry collaborations.

Importantly, the benefits of this strategic partnership will be felt beyond the research community. It will create new opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses to tender for contracts ranging from heavy engineering, electrical and mechanical engineering to the design and development of precision optics, electronics, sensors, and complex instrumentation.

This will stimulate commercialisation of innovative new astronomy technologies with likely spin-off applications in a wide range of areas like medicine, telecommunications, and manufacturing.

Australia’s participation in ground-breaking ‘big science’ projects and major international collaborations like this, and the Square Kilometre Array, is vital for advancing our scientific and industry capabilities.

The 10-year partnership with ESO presents a unique opportunity for Australia to obtain the benefits of membership ahead of any future decision to become a full member.

The Director General of ESO, Professor Tim de Zeeuw, said the collaboration would lead to fundamental new advances in science and technology that neither could hope to achieve alone.

“Australia has a long and rich history of internationally acclaimed astronomical research. The already very active and successful astronomical community will undoubtedly thrive with long-term access to ESO’s cutting-edge facilities,” Prof. de Zeeuw said.

“Australia’s expertise in astronomical technology, including advanced adaptive optics and fibre-optics, is ideally matched with ESO’s instrumentation programme. In turn, Australia will gain access to industrial, instrumentation and scientific opportunities at ESO's La Silla Paranal Observatory.”

I’m delighted that the Australian astronomy community and the broader research sector have enthusiastically supported the Australian Government’s decision to enter the strategic partnership with the ESO.

By working together, we can sustain and strengthen Australia’s world-leading astronomy capability and seize this unprecedented opportunity to secure the future of optical astronomy in this country.

Media contacts: Minister Sinodinos' office 02 6277 7070