Finland joins the ESO club at an opportune time
The European Southern Observatory (ESO), a leading astrophysics research organisation, added Finland to its ranks this month, bringing the total number of members to eleven. Finland’s prowess in research and development will contribute significantly to several new projects, the ESO says.
Finland has joined ten other European countries – Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK – to become a fully-fledged member of the European Southern Observatory. This well-respected astronomical body was established by a special convention over 40 years ago with the ambition of setting up an observatory equipped with powerful instruments in the southern hemisphere, as well as to promote co-operation in astronomical research.
|Signing of the agreement earlier this year to set Finland’s accession to the ESO in motion|
© Image: ESO
The ESO welcomes Finland to the fold after several months of accession talks to negotiate the Nordic country’s contribution to the ESO. This took place after a formal signing occasion, in February this year, at which time the Finnish Minister of Education and Science Tuula Haatainen said her country was proud to be joining this successful European scientific megaproject. “The ESO is an excellent example of the potential of European co-operation in science,” she said during a ceremony at the ESO headquarters in Garching (DE). “We will also try to promote technological and industrial co-operation with the ESO – I am confident that Finland's membership will be beneficial to both sides.”
For Finland, joining the ESO is motivated not only by science and technology but also the wider objective of improving public understanding of science, something shared by all members of the European Union and strongly encouraged by the Commission through its ‘Science and Society’ programme. According to a statement by the ESO, the Finnish government is also committed to increasing public research funding in order to improve the quality, impact and internationalisation of research.
Gaining access to powerful ‘very large telescopes’ (VLT), equipment and facilities in a part of the world – Paranal, Chile – offering unequalled visibility is one huge advantage for Finnish astronomers now that they are in the ESO club. Finland is also keen to take part in technological development projects in related fields, such as information communications and technology, optics and instrumentation.
Adding Finland to its numbers is being seen as quite a catch for the ESO. Piet van der Kruit, President of the ESO Council said Finland’s reputation as a highly efficient country with a competitive innovation system and fast-growing research investment is well known throughout Europe. “I have no doubt that Finnish astronomers will not only make the best scientific use of the ESO facilities but that they will also greatly contribute through their high-quality [RTD], which will benefit the whole ESO community,” he noted.
ESO Director-General Catherine Cesarsky said Finland’s accession comes at a fortuitous time, as the organisation is heavily involved in several new projects which could be of interest to Finnish astrophysicists. “This is indeed the right time to join the ESO. Our four 8.2m VLT unit telescopes [and] instruments are working with unsurpassed efficiency at Paranal, probing the near and distant Universe and providing European astronomers with a goldmine of unique astronomical data,” she said during the signing, adding that the VLT interferometer and other cutting-edge optical and telescopic projects are progressing well. “Wonderful horizons are indeed opening for the coming generations of European astronomers.”
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Finland set to join ESO (press release, 9 February 2004)8.2-m VLT unit telescopesVLT interferometer