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The Jewel on the Mountaintop: The European Southern Observatory through Fifty Years

ISBN: 978-3-527-41203-7
600 pages
November 2012
The Jewel on the Mountaintop: The European Southern Observatory through Fifty Years (3527412034) cover image
Authored by ESO senior advisor Claus Madsen, the present book comprises 576 action-packed pages of ESO history and dramatic stories about the people behind the organisation. This is the ultimate historical account about ESO and its telescopes in the southern hemisphere, but also about a truly remarkable European success story in research. Spanning the range from the first telescopes to the future platforms of the next generation, it shows how the improvement of the telescopes leads to a continuously changing view of the Universe. With 150 photos and illustrations. Produced especially for ESO's 50th anniversary.
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Author's Preface 9

Prologue 15

The Hinge: The VLT 15

Part I: Catching Up 19

Chapter I-1 The Oldest Science 21

Chapter I-2 Returning from the Abyss 25

Chapter I-3 A Dramatic Twist 35

Chapter I-4 In the Most Remote Place God Could Find 43

Chapter I-5 ESO — Quo Vadis? 53

Chapter I-6 Towards the 3.6-metre Telescope 59

Chapter I-7 Sky Mapper 75

Chapter I-8 Of Heaven and Hell, the Vatican and the Mission 85

Chapter I-9 The Changing of the Guard 93

Chapter I-10 Garching United 99

Part II: Years of Experimentation 107

Chapter II-1 Upping the Ante 109

Chapter II-2 Inventing a Game Changer 119

Chapter II-3 EMMI, SUSI, SOFI and the other Darlings 125

Chapter II-4 Hubble at ESO 137

Chapter II-5 History in Passing 147

Chapter II-6 An Annus Mirabilis 155

Chapter II-7 Decision Day 171

Chapter II-8 A Mountain in the Middle of Nowhere 177

Chapter II-9 NTT First Light 187

Part III: The Breakthrough 199

Chapter III-1 Back to the Drawing Board 201

Chapter III-2 Aux Instruments, Chercheurs! 215

Chapter III-3 Breaking the Seeing Barrier 231

Chapter III-4 From double-sight to supersight: Interferometry 243

Chapter III-5 The Return of the Dalton Brothers 251

Chapter III-6 Bang for the Buck 265

Chapter III-7 Paradigm Revisited 271

Chapter III-8 Upgrading, De-scoping 279

Chapter III-9 Clouds on the Horizon 289

Chapter III-10 At the Brink 295

Chapter III-11 Tranquillity in Chile, Icy Winds in Europe 305

Chapter III-12 Tuning a Formidable Science Machine 317

Chapter III-13 The Countdown 327

Chapter III-14 Clear Skies, at Last 337

Chapter III-15 First Fringes of the Phoenix 351

Chapter III-16 Not just a Telescope, an Observatory; Not just an Observatory, a Home 361

Part IV: Towards New Horizons 367

Chapter IV-1 ALMA 369

Chapter IV-2 Into New Territory 393

Chapter IV-3 Buds at Paranal 401

Chapter IV-4 Of Eponymous Birds and Euros 411

Chapter IV-5 The VLT in Retrospect 427

Chapter IV-6 A Love Affair 445

Chapter IV-7 A Growing Organisation 451

Chapter IV-8 The Surge 457

Chapter IV-9 Born in Europe, at Home in the World 487

Chapter IV-10 A Window to the Public 501

Epilogue 513

References 517

Appendices 527

Appendix 1 Important Milestones 529

Important milestones during the period covered in Part I 529

Important milestones during the period covered in Part II 531

Important milestones during the period covered in Part III 532

Important milestones during the period covered in Part IV 533

Appendix 2 List of ESO Council Presidents and Directors General 535

Appendix 3 List of Interviewees 537

Appendix 4 List of Acronyms 538

Appendix 5 Index of Names 543

Appendix 6 Subject Index 550

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Claus Madsen is Senior Advisor for International Science Policy. He has devoted his professional life to two strands of activities: International science policy and public science communication. In 1980, he joined ESO. After a few years at the ESO Sky Laboratory, he became more and more involved in organising exhibitions, producing films and giving public lectures on astronomy.
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“Indeed, anyone who has had any involvement with, or interest in, the incredible astronomical phoenix that sprang out the ashes of WW II, should get a copy.”  (The Observatory Magazine, 1 June 2013)

“Anniversary publications can be overly dry or self-puffing, but this one isn’t – it’s a weighty yet wonderfully written account of the effort to restore the prowess of European astronomy after World War II.”  (BBC Sky at Night Magazine, 1 February 2013)

“Rightly, the book is dedicated to the memory of Adriaan Blaauw, ESO’s second Director General who initial articles led the author to put together this excellent chronicle.”  (Astronomy Now, 1 February 2013)

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