From Astro Watch: “ESO Remains World’s Most Productive Ground-based Observatory”

Astro Watch bloc

Astro Watch


A survey of peer-reviewed scientific papers published in 2016 and using data from ESO’s telescopes and instruments has shown that ESO remains the world’s most productive ground-based observatory. Astronomers used observational data from ESO facilities to produce an all-time high of 936 refereed papers last year.

There were 565 papers credited to ESO in 2016 that used data acquired with either the Very Large Telescope (VLT) or the VLT Interferometer facilities on Cerro Paranal. The three most productive VLT instruments in terms of papers are UVES, FORS2 and VIMOS, which featured in 123, 109 and 75 papers, respectively. The MUSE and SPHERE instruments also saw large increases from the previous year. Data from the VISTA and VST survey telescopes on Cerro Paranal led to 93 and 18 papers, respectively.

Facilities located at La Silla provided data for almost 200 papers in total. HARPS remains La Silla’s most productive instrument, with 80 papers to its name.

European observing time with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) accounted for 129 papers in 2016, bringing to 305 the total number of such papers by the end of 2016. Observations made with the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment telescope (APEX) in ESO-APEX observing time led to 46 papers in 2016, taking the total of such papers to 301 by the end of 2016. The continued success of ALMA and APEX contributed significantly to ESO’s record-high number of publications. APEX is a collaboration between the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, the Onsala Space Observatory and ESO, and is operated by ESO on the Chajnantor Plateau in Chile’s Atacama region.

A comparison of the number of papers produced using facilities at major observatories worldwide puts ESO’s observatories at the top of the list. Note that the methods used to obtain these numbers differ from one observatory to another, so the figures cannot be compared precisely. Nevertheless, it is clear that ESO continues to significantly surpass any other ground-based observatory and on the available figures has increased its lead over the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope since 2015.

These results highlight ESO’s major contribution to astronomical research. The publication statistics give an idea of how much scientific work is carried out with data from the individual observatories, but do not address the wider impact they have on science.

The figures are published in the annual Basic ESO Publication Statistics published by ESO’s Library and calculated using the ESO Telescope Bibliography (telbib), a database containing refereed publications that use ESO data. ESO makes extensive efforts to identify all refereed papers that use ESO data and considers telbib essentially complete. In 2016, the 13 000th paper was added to telbib, published by a former ESO student and using data from the X-shooter and UVES instruments on the VLT.

Interactive graphs of selected statistics are also available online. These graphs display the entire content of the telbib database, which contains records for publications from the year 1996 to the present. They can be used to explore many aspects of the publication history, including the development of science papers using data from ESO instruments and the use of archival data.

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ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

ESO LaSilla
ESO/Cerro LaSilla 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres

VLT at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

ESO Vista Telescope
ESO/Vista Telescope at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

ESO/NTT at Cerro LaSilla 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres

ESO VLT Survey telescope
VLT Survey Telescope at Cerro Paranal with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

ALMA Array
ALMA on the Chajnantor plateau at 5,000 metres

ESO/E-ELT to be built at Cerro Armazones at 3,060 m

APEX Atacama Pathfinder 5,100 meters above sea level, at the Llano de Chajnantor Observatory in the Atacama desert

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