DIAS’ Prof Tom Ray becomes next ESO council president

8 Dec 2023

Prof Tom Ray at the ESO Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array. Image: DIAS

Ray has represented Ireland on the ESO’s council since 2018 and will now lead the organisation on various endeavours, including the construction of its Extremely Large Telescope.

Prof Tom Ray of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) has been announced as the next president of the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) main governing body.

The ESO is an intergovernmental organisation that designs, builds and operates some of the most powerful observatories in the world, including the Very Large Telescope in Chile. Ray has represented Ireland on the ESO’s council since the country officially became a member in 2018.

Ray has decades of experience, having joined DIAS as a professor in 1986, where he continues to research the formation of planets and stars. He has also served on the ESO’s Observing Programme Committee and the council of the Royal Irish Academy.

Ray also helped build the infrared instrument on the James Webb – the mid-infrared instrument (MIRI) – which has been a vital piece of equipment for the telescope as it works to gaze further into the cosmos than humanity ever has before.

Speaking on his appointment as president, Ray said the ESO “leads the world in ground-based astronomy” and that the next few years will bring “exciting developments”.

“The Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) takes shape in the Andes, and European technical know-how will be pushed to its limits, eventually resulting in us having the capability of imaging and analysing Earth-sized planets around other stars, and resolving the earliest known structures in our universe,” Ray said.

“ESO is also expanding its capabilities at millimetre wavelengths in the Atacama Desert and helping to construct the largest gamma ray observatory ever built. One of my main priorities as president will be to ensure all of these goals are met, with the help and cooperation of member states, including Ireland.

“The Observatory demonstrates very clearly what Europe can do when it works together. I am honoured that the member states have chosen me to fulfil this very important role.”

DIAS CEO and registrar Dr Eucharia Meehan said Ray’s appointment is fantastic news for DIAS and for “the space research community in Ireland”.

“Prof Ray is a highly accomplished astronomer, who has had a distinguished career to date.” Meehan said. “I have no doubt that he will continue to propel Ireland, and indeed Europe, to the forefront of space research in his role as president.”

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic