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Australia enters partnership with ESO

The government of Australia will allocate $19.2 million of its budget for next year so that its community of astrophysicists can conduct joint research and have access to some of the instruments at the European Southern Observatory (ESO), a consortium of 16 member countries—including Brazil—that manages a suite of large telescopes at three sites in Chile. The partnership also calls for Australia to make annual $9 million contributions to the ESO, starting in 2018 and ending in 2028. Only then will the country decide whether to become a full member of the consortium. In May 2017, the ESO laid the foundation stone for the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT). The ELT, which will feature a 39-meter mirror, will be the world’s largest optical telescope. It is expected to come on-line in 2024. Access to the facilities of ESO, which also manages the ALMA, the largest operational ground-based radiotelescope, has been a goal of Australian astrophysicists for some time. In the meantime, according to a note on the Australian government website, the partnership does not provide for access to the ALMA or the ELT. “Australia’s participation in multinational collaborations like the partnership with the ESO will advance our scientific and industrial capabilities,” American astrophysicist Brian Schmidt, 2011 Nobel Prize winner in Physics and Vice-Chancellor of Australian National University, told the website of Astronomy Australia Ltd. In addition to the new partnership, Australia is involved in two other large international projects, the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), a 24.5-meter optical super telescope under construction in Chile (to which the São Paulo researchers will have access) and the SKA radiotelescope, which is to begin construction in 2018.