Optical astronomy in Australia
The government has for decades supported optical astronomy as one of the branches of astronomy in which Australian research leads the world.
To answer today’s big questions of science, Australia’s and the world’s astronomers need access to increasingly large and complex telescopes. To analyse the rich details in the light that these telescopes collect, our astronomers also need the most advanced cameras and instruments.
The scale of investment needed to do this means that countries must partner and collaborate to build and operate today’s leading-edge astronomy facilities.
Transforming the optical astronomy sector
The government is transforming Australia’s optical astronomy sector. To best position our astronomers to retain their high standing in this emerging era of global astronomy, the government:
- entered into a 10-year Strategic Partnership with the European Southern Observatory (ESO)
- transferred the most important scientific operations of the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) to the domestic research sector
This will enable the best science and create new industry opportunities to benefit Australia’s economy.
We support the government’s aims by:
- leading Australia’s involvement in the ESO Strategic Partnership
- providing oversight of Australia’s domestic optical astronomy capabilities, now the responsibility of the domestic research sector
- administering the enabling legislation
Partnership with the European Southern Observatory
The government is supporting Australia’s involvement in a 10-year Strategic Partnership with the European Southern Observatory (ESO).
ESO is an astronomy organisation with 16 member states, one host country (Chile) and one strategic partnership (Australia). It plays a leading role in promoting and organising international research cooperation and provides state-of-the-art research facilities to astronomers.
This unique partnership is giving Australian astronomers the opportunities they need to stay at the leading-edge of discovery. For the first time, they have long-term access to the world’s most advanced suite of optical telescopes and instruments.
Industry engagement with ESO
The partnership opens up opportunities for Australian companies to tender for ESO work and supply contracts. Australian research institutions may also be invited to collaborate on ESO technology development projects.
Australia has appointed an Industrial Liaison Officer (ILO) to be the primary contact between ESO and Australian industry. The ILO will:
- work with us to assist ESO in meeting procurement needs
- raise Australian industry awareness of commercial opportunities arising from Australia’s partnership with ESO
- work with Australian businesses and astronomy institutions to develop their capabilities and cultivate research-industry collaboration
- improve competitiveness in ESO tendering and global supply chains in astronomical and related fields
Australia’s domestic optical astronomy capability
The Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) operated as Australia’s national optical astronomy facility from 1974 to 2018. Among other world-class services to astronomers, the AAO:
- operated the 3.9-metre Anglo-Australian Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory near Coonabarabran in New South Wales
- developed innovative optical instruments at its headquarters in North Ryde
As part of the transformation of Australia’s optical astronomy capability, the research sector is delivering these scientific operations:
- The Australian National University (ANU) operates the Anglo‑Australian Telescope with funding provided by the telescope’s users in the university sector. The ANU operates Siding Spring Observatory.
- Macquarie University leads a consortium that is establishing national capability to design and build optical instrumentation for astronomy and other applications. It will be collaborative and industry-focused. Macquarie University’s partners are the ANU, University of Sydney and Astronomy Australia Limited.
- Ministerial Media Release 11 July 2017: Securing the future of Australian Optical Astronomy
- ESO Organisation Release 11 July 2017: Australia Enters Strategic Partnership with ESO
- News article on the Australia ESO Strategic Partnership on the Astronomy Australia Ltd website
- Australian Academy of Science: Decadal Plan for Australian Astronomy 2016-2025
- Australia’s National Science Statement sets a long-term approach to achieving a strong science system.
Subscribe to our Astronomy in Australia Newsletter from Astronomer-at-large Fred Watson.
Last updated: 12 November 2020
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