Ireland to join European space research organisation

European Southern Observatory membership to boost skills in data analytics and software

The European Southern Observatory  provides astronomers with state-of-the-art research facilities and access to the southern sky. Photograph: Martin Bernetti

The European Southern Observatory provides astronomers with state-of-the-art research facilities and access to the southern sky. Photograph: Martin Bernetti

 

Ireland is to join the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in 2018 following an increased capital budget allocation for the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

The ESO is a 16-nation intergovernmental research organisation for ground-based astronomy with headquarters in Munich. Created in 1962, it provides astronomers with state-of-the-art research facilities and access to the southern sky – its observatories are located in northern Chile.

The benefits of membership will be significant including “the creation of advanced enterprise skills in areas such as data analytics, software and photonics”, according to Minister for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development John Halligan.

Membership will ensure Irish companies can compete for ESO contracts to develop innovative products and services, and enhance research opportunities for third-level institutions, he said.

Long campaign

The announcement has come after a long campaign from the astrophysics community in Ireland, said Dr Sheila Gilheany, policy adviser for the Institute of Physics in Ireland.

“Ireland’s membership of ESO will allow physicists here to work with other cutting-edge scientists worldwide to understand our universe, and bring the fruit of that research back to Ireland to support education and develop our business capacity in many high-tech fields,” she said.

Astrophysics is a key driver of science interest and innovation, Dr Gilheany said. “To support this, Irish scientists and engineers need access to the best research facilities, and this access brings with it the benefits of spin-off technology, contracts and jobs.”

The department is also to receive €15 million to “drive access to new product opportunities from European Space Agency contracts and to help secure research and development funding from the EU programme Horizon 2020”.