The Italian Prime Minister was accompanied by the Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs, His Excellency Mario Giro, and the Ambassador of Italy in Chile, His Excellency Marco Ricci, as well as other Italian Government officials and Mr Francesco Starace, CEO of the Italian multinational energy company ENEL. Also present were Her Excellency Gloria Navarrete, Director of Protocol at the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, His Excellency Senator Guido Girardi and the Ambassador of Chile to Italy, His Excellency Fernando Ayala.
On arrival Prime Minister Renzi and his delegation were welcomed by ESO’s Director General, Tim de Zeeuw, and the E-ELT Programme Manager, Roberto Tamai, who then acted as hosts and accompanied them on a tour of the site.
“I am delighted to welcome Prime Minister Renzi to the Paranal Observatory,” said Tim de Zeeuw. “Italy has been an ESO Member State for 33 years and Italian industry has made huge contributions to the organisation — the VLT enclosures we see here were built in Italy. The very active astronomical community in Italy is also at the forefront of exploiting ESO’s facilities to carry out world-leading science.”
The distinguished guests viewed the opening of the domes of the four VLT Unit Telescopes as they were prepared for night-time observations. They were also shown the VLT Survey Telescope, which was designed and built in Italy, and then dined at Paranal’s award-winning Residencia, the observatory’s accommodation and office building.
Italian engineers and astronomers are also currently heavily involved in the design and construction of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), which will become the world’s largest optical/infrared telescope. The Programme Manager of the E-ELT, Roberto Tamai, is also an Italian national. The Prime Minister and his delegation were shown where the E-ELT is now being built on Cerro Armazones, just 20 kilometres from Paranal.
Plans for the Prime Minister to visit the observatory were first announced in June 2015 in Milan, at Expo Milano — a World Exposition attended by over 140 countries and dozens of organisations at which ESO supported astronomy-themed activities and exhibited ESO Ultra HD videos showing the spectacular night skies of Chile.
ESO’s Paranal Observatory is located 130 kilometres south of Antofagasta, in the heart of Chile’s Atacama Desert. At a height of 2635 metres above sea level, Paranal is one of the best places on Earth to conduct scientific observations of the Universe. With the four 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes and four 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes of the Very Large Telescope (VLT) — the world’s most advanced optical instrument dedicated to astronomical research — as well as the VISTA and VST survey telescopes, Paranal is the most productive ground-based astronomical observatory in the world.