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Optical astronomy in Australia

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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:

  • has 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, including its scientific, industry and strategic aspects
  • supporting all aspects of the transition of the AAO including liaising with the domestic research sector and 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).

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) is an astronomy organisation involving 15 countries. 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.

The partnership also 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’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 has:

  • operated the 3.9-metre Anglo-Australian Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory
  • 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) leads a consortium of Australian research institutions to operate the Anglo-Australian Telescope until at least 2024-25. This provides ongoing services to Australia’s astronomers and supports the ESO Strategic Partnership.
  • Macquarie University, the ANU and the University of Sydney continue to develop the AAO’s instrumentation activities. This will create a national optical instrumentation capability that can link to industry and develop commercial uses beyond astronomy.

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Contact us

Email OpticalAstronomy@industry.gov.au

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Last updated: 1 July 2018

Content ID: 13011