ESO and Chile celebrate 60 years of collaboration in astronomy

12 October 2023

On 6 November 1963, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and the Republic of Chile signed an agreement which started a cooperation in astronomy that had tremendous worldwide impact. This relationship enabled the establishment of unique observatories in the Atacama Desert, such as La Silla, Paranal and ALMA, and the development of strong astronomical communities and cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs.

Yesterday, ESO Council and staff, along with diplomats from ESO Member States, Chilean authorities and the scientific community, held a ceremony at the ESO offices in Santiago — the first of several celebrations to mark 60 years of the agreement. 

The history of Chile and ESO is marked by several milestones that have strengthened this partnership. The first observatory established by ESO was La Silla, inaugurated in 1969 in the region of Coquimbo, 600 km north of Santiago. Here, ESO currently operates some of the most productive optical telescopes of their class. Moreover, it hosts international projects encouraging collaboration, high-level research and training for new professionals.

In 1996, ESO and Chile signed a supplementary agreement whereby guaranteed observing time on ESO telescopes was granted to Chilean scientific institutions. In addition, the Joint Committee ESO–Chile was established to manage an annual competitive fund that contributes to the development of astronomy, related technologies, and outreach at a national and regional level in Chile.  

In 1999, ESO’s Paranal Observatory, home to ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), was inaugurated in the region of Antofagasta in the north of Chile. The VLT, which recently turned 25, is ESO’s flagship facility for ground-based astronomy in this era and has become the most advanced optical telescope in the world.   

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), on the Chajnantor Plateau, 50 km from San Pedro de Atacama, was inaugurated ten years ago. ALMA is the largest radio telescope in the world and a global astronomical collaboration operated jointly by ESO and its international partners from North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. It celebrates ten years of science operations this year.

These observatories generate a huge amount of astronomical data, which has enabled fascinating scientific discoveries and even led to several Nobel Prizes.

Moreover, ESO is currently building the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal. Expected to start scientific operations before the end of this decade, it will be the largest optical telescope in the world, and it will continue to strengthen ties with Chile while transforming our understanding of the Universe.

The celebrations for these sixty years of cooperation will also include events for local communities. On 4 November, the Foundation for Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Chile (FOJI) will play a new musical piece in La Serena composed in honour of La Silla Observatory. This results from a collaboration between ESO and FOJI over the last 12 months, including visits of their musicians to the observatories and meetings between musicians and ESO staff.


Francisco Rodriguez
ESO Chile Press Officer
Santiago, Chile

Bárbara Ferreira
ESO Media Manager
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6670


About the Announcement



Six smartly dressed people stand in a line in front of a large image of the sky with the ESO logo and the words
Speakers at the ESO-Chile 60-years ceremony at the ESO offices in Santiago
Two people stand holding a large print image of a nebula. In the background there is a large white curtain to the right and a bright blue sign to the left that says: Aniversario ESO y Chile.
ESO Director General and Chile's Minister for Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation
In front of a large white curtain, a speaker stands in front of a microphone and lectern. In the foreground, several audience members sit with their backs to the camera. A presentation slide to the upper right describes Linda Tacconi, Presidenta del Consejo, ESO Council President.
ESO Council President at the 60 years of ESO in Chile ceremony
Under a large white tent roof, dozens of people dressed in suits sit in rows of chairs, looking off camera to the left. Strings of lights brighten the tent in contrast to the dark outside.
Public at the 60 years of ESO in Chile ceremony
Seven people in blue ESO jackets stand outside under a white tent, smiling at the camera.
Voluntaries at the ceremony of the 60 years of ESO in Chile