For the first time ever, on the morning of 5 October, observations with ESO's Very Large Telescope were made of an object chosen by the public. The winner of an anniversary competition pointed the VLT toward the spectacular Thor's Helmet Nebula and the observations were broadcast live over the internet. To mark the occasion ESO and its partners organized many other activities in the 15 ESO Member States.
The signing of the ESO Convention on 5 October 1962 and the foundation of ESO was the culmination of the dream of leading astronomers from five European countries -- Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. They had decided to join forces with the primary goal of building a large telescope that would give them access to the magnificent and rich southern sky.
"Fifty years later, the original hopes of the five founding members have not only become reality, but have been greatly surpassed," says Tim de Zeeuw, ESO's Director General. "ESO has fully taken up the challenge of its mission to design, build and operate the most powerful ground-based observing facilities on the planet."
ESO now operates three unique and world-class observing sites in Chile -- La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor -- and has become a leader in the astronomical research community.
The organization has made a signficant contribution to the scientific literature housed in the SPIE Digital Library, including more than 600 papers with primary authors from ESO.
"ESO has built an impressive legacy through its 50 years observing our universe," said SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs. "Founded with a vision of international cooperation, it has set the tone for the team-based approach that makes astronomy the rich area of scientific inquiry it is today. SPIE congratulates ESO and its member countries, with best wishes for another 50 years of exciting discoveries."
Researchers from ESO are key to SPIE efforts in hosting major astronomy events. The 2012 symposium on Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation included numerous conference chairs from the organization: Roberto Gilmozzi, Francoise Delplancke, Suzanne Ramsay, Enrico Marchetti, Fernando Comeron, Philippe Dierickx, and Gianluca Chiozzi. Mark Casali was symposium chair. Also, the featured dinner speaker at the July event was ESO's Jason Spyromilio.
ESO's huge next telescope is only a few years away. The 39-meter European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) will become "the world's biggest eye on the sky." With first light planned for early in the next decade, the E-ELT will tackle the biggest scientific challenges of our time.
As part of the anniversary celebrations, for the first time ever, the VLT observed an object selected by members of the public -- the Thor's Helmet Nebula. This nebula was picked in a recent contest. The observations were performed by Brigitte Bailleul - winner of the "Tweet Your Way to the VLT!" competition - and were broadcast live over the internet from Paranal Observatory. This image, taken in the superb conditions typical of Paranal, is the most detailed ever obtained of this striking object.