The ESO-Israel Initiative

The European Southern Observatory ESO , is the world's leading and largest astronomical "laboratory", with 15 member states, observing facilities at several high-altitude sites in Chile, and headquarters in Germany. The ESO-Israel Initiative is an initiative by astrophysicists at the Israeli research universities to have Israel join ESO as a member state. This would allow Israeli scientists to compete for observing time on ESO's state-of-the art telescopes, and would open opportunities for Israeli industries to participate in bids for construction of ESO's next generation of facilities, such as the European Extremely Large Telescope . The initiative has consensus support by the professional astronomy community in Israel. To succeed, it requires the approval of the ESO Council, and of the relevant government and funding bodies in Israel. Below, we compile a number of documents and links that are relevant to the initiative.

Coordinators: Dan Maoz , Shay Zucker , and Ehud Behar

Israeli Industry Day for participation in the ESO Extremely Large Telescope Technion, November 24, 2013
PDFs of Presentations:
Laura Comendador Frutos, ESO
Roberto Tamai, ESO
Alistair McPherson, ESO
Patrick Geeraert, ESO
Additional talks and details here


ESO Trailer A 3-minute video with main facts and nice films and animations of the main ESO facilities


Hebrew Summary (Hebrew) Current status of observational astronomy in Israel, rationale and benefits of joining ESO

Concise Hebrew Summary Bullet-style version of above summary

Academy Report Report of the external Committeee on Astrophysics in Israel, commissioned by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities in 2002, with the main recommendation that Israel join ESO

Study of Israeli scientific publication and citation statistics (2011, Hebrew) by the Technion's Neeman Institute, commissioned by the Ministry of Science. See, e.g., p. 217, showing that in Space Sciences, over the past 15 years, Israel is consistently ranked among the top in the world, often at No. 1

Roadmap for National Research Infrastructures (2014, Hebrew) commissioned by the Planning and Budgeting Committee (VATAT). Israeli membership in ESO is a top recommendation of the roadmap.

Fast Facts

*Israeli astrophysicists hold a prominent world position:
-- Consistently in the top world rankings in publication and citation statistics, see this independent study (2011, Hebrew)
-- Among about 30 astrophysics faculty members in Israel, there are currently six European ERC grant holders (Alexander, Gal-Yam, Mazeh, Nakar, Piran, Sari) plus a DIP grant (PI Sternberg).
-- Among the Hubble-Einstein-Sagan postdoctoral fellowships awarded by NASA over the past years, a disproportionately large fraction has gone to Israeli Astrophysics Department PhD recipients (Gal-Yam, Ofek, Gnat, Poznanski, Katz, Naoz, Shporer, Zitrin, Ben-Ami,Arcavi).

*Israel is the only Western industrialized nation whose astronomers do not have institutionalized access to any state-of-the-art observational facilities.

*ESO is building the European Extremely Large Telescope with a budget of 1.1 billion Euro. When operational in the next decade, it will be at the forefront of astronomical exploration, and available to scientists from ESO member states.

*There is consensus among Israeli astronomers, as well as independent assessments by external committees (see this report and this VATAT roadmap ) that joining ESO is the best way for Israel to exploit and further develop its world position in astrophysics, and to be part of the next wave of discoveries that will come with facilities such as the European Extremely Large Telescope .


* What would be the cost of Israel of joining ESO?

Based on the current GDPs of Israel and the ESO member states, Israel would have to pay about 14M euro capital costs and 2M euro a year for operations and continued development.

* How is ESO telescope time allocated?

Formally, any scientist from any country can apply for ESO time. Proposals are peer-evaluated solely based on scientific merit by panels of astronomers (Israelis are sometimes invited to participate in these panels), and there are no quotas per state or per person. However, proposals with fewer than one-third ESO-member-state proposers are deemed "non-member state proposals". Such proposals are accepted only if the applicants do not have access to similar instrumentation at non-ESO facilities, and if there is no competing proposal from member states. In practice, it is hard to get ESO observing time as non-members, particularly as initiators and leaders of projects.

* How have Israeli observational astronomers managed to operate over the years, and to reach their scientific achievements, without access to ESO or similar facilities?

Israeli astronomers have competed successfully for time on NASA space telescopes (Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, Herschel, Swift, Kepler, and more), which are open to proposals from all scientists. Access to the largest and best ground-based telescopes (Keck, ESO-VLT, Subaru, Gemini, LBT, and more) has been obtained via collaborations with foreign astronomers who have access to these facilities.

* Could Israeli astronomers continue operating in the above modes, instead of joining ESO?

In principle, yes. However, this mode of operation implies that Israelis often cannot take the leadership roles in initiating and executing astronomical research projects, nor receive full credit for the resulting discoveries, even when in practice they have played the major roles. With the next generation of giant telescopes, the "hitchhiking" mode of operation may work even less, with the risk of Israeli astrophysics being sidelined and left behind.

* What fraction of the ESO membership fees will return to Israel in the form of industrial contracts?

Typically 70% of ESO member states fees return to those states in the forms of orders from industry, for developing and building new ESO facilities and instrumentation. There is no guaranteed return fraction, but rather competitive bidding by the industries of the member states. The more technologically advanced countries, of which Israel is an example, tend to achieve a higher-than-typical return fraction.

Examples of Israeli industries relevant to construction of the ESO Extremely Large Telescope

Mirror support structures, precision machining:
Carmel Metals
AVCO Systems Integration

Motors and actuators:
Bental Industries
ACS Motion Control

Optical elements:
Elbit - Elop
Ophir Optronics

Rotem Industries

Alignment lasers:
Duma Optronics

Tower Semiconductor

Cryogenic and vacuum systems:

Software and software validation:
KDE Group


Integrated engineering systems:
Persys Technologies

Relevant Links
Extremely Large Telescope: some technical papers
Executive Summary
Segmented mirror fabrication
Mirror actuators
Laser-guided adaptive optics
Laser-guided adaptive optics
Laser-guided adaptive optics
Telescope enclosure
First-generation instrument HARMONY
First-generation instrument MICADO

Astrophysics at Israeli universities
Ben-Gurion University
Hebrew University
Tel-Aviv University
University of Haifa
Weizmann Institute