THE lunar-like landscape of the Atacama desert in Chile is far from junior minister John Halligan’s constituency. Yet it was the focus of talks he held in Dublin yesterday on the prospect of Ireland joining the European Southern Observatory, the continent’s largest astronomy organisation.
It won’t come cheap. It costs €14m to join and €2m a year thereafter, but being a member is no mere indulgence. The ESO is the foremost international astronomy collaboration in Europe.
Together its 15 member states and Chile operate large telescopes involved in some of the most important astronomical discoveries of recent decades.
Astronomers would like Ireland to join it, because without membership they do not have automatic access to ESO telescopes and cannot work closely with its experts.
Ireland once was home to the largest telescope on earth, designed and built in the 1840s by the Earl of Rosse, who used it to discover the spiral nature of some galaxies. Joining the ESO would be a fitting 21st century tribute to him.
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