Optical astronomy in Australia

We are transforming Australia’s optical astronomy sector.

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.

Read the mid-term evaluation of these activities.

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:

For more information on industry engagement with ESO contact the Australian Industrial Liaison Officer or visit eso.org.

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.

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