The ESO was formed in 1962 to promote European cooperation in astronomy and to operate the world's largest ground-based telescope infrastructure, and is today considered the most productive observatory in the world.
ESO is funded by the following Member States: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, along with Chile as host country and Australia as strategic partner. It is currently the workplace for about 700 people, including full-time employees, scientists and engineers from various geographies and nationalities.
The ESO headquarters (which includes the scientific, technical and administrative centers) is located in Garching, near Munich, Germany. The ESO Supernova, a large astronomy outreach center, which includes a planetarium, is also located at the headquarters. All three ESO observatories are operating in Chile, more precisely in the Atacama Desert. At the Paranal observatory, at 2600m altitude, the Very Large Telescope operates, a set of four telescopes, each with a main mirror 8.2 meters in diameter. The observatory at La Silla, at 2400m altitude, houses several optical telescopes with mirrors ranging up to 3.6 meters in diameter. At Chajnantor, at 5000m altitude, is located the APEX telescope and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), the largest terrestrial astronomy project with a revolutionary infrastructure in world astronomy. A new optical/infrared telescope with a 39m diameter primary mirror, the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), is under construction.
On July 10, 1990 Portugal signed a Cooperation Agreement with the ESO, through which observer status was guaranteed, and a transition process was defined so that, within 10 years, it could become a full Member State. In 1999 Portugal applied for membership as a Member State, and Portugal's accession agreement was approved in December 2000.
As a Member State Portugal contributes annually to the annual costs of operating the infrastructure (about 1.2% of the overall budget). Portugal's participation in the ESO has enabled Portuguese research teams to have access to an observation infrastructure of the highest quality, and to scientific participation in the areas of astronomy and astrophysics, which has contributed decisively to the growth of the scientific community, particularly PhD graduates, and to its internationalization.
Since 1990, dozens of Portuguese researchers have obtained observing time at the ESO telescopes. An average of 1800 proposals for access to observing time are submitted annually by researchers from all countries. In numbers, observing time by national researchers is above the percentage of national contribution.
It should also be noted that in 2019, 4 Portuguese have employment contracts in technical departments of the organization.
Advanced training of human resources
In May 2001, Portugal and the ESO signed a human resources training protocol, with the aim of promoting the advanced training of young Portuguese graduates, through Studentships specialized internships that are awarded by FCT. Under this protocol, the Innovation Agency was responsible, until the end of 2012, for implementing the internship program, selecting candidates and monitoring the work developed by the grant recipients.
A new protocol was signed between FCT and ESO in 2013, transferring to FCT all the previous competences related to this program.
The internships, with a minimum duration of one year with the possibility of renewal for another year, are selected by technological fields, paying special attention to the project, the pedagogical framework and the future insertion of the fellows in innovation-oriented Portuguese companies.
More information about the technological internships can be found at this link.
In addition to the scientific benefit and advanced training in their country, as full members of the ESO, all Member States have the possibility to obtain the industrial benefit by contributing to the increased competitiveness and technological advancement of their industry.
The ESO is considered an extremely competitive and demanding technological market, in the universe of the 16 Member States that make up the organization.
Information about the ESO procurement service and associated processes is accessible via the official website. For any questions or clarification about the industrial link between Portugal and the ESO, please contact the ILO.