The European Southern Observatory (ESO, whose official name is the European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere), is an intergovernmental research organization for astronomy, composed and supported by fourteen countries from Europe. Created in 1962, to provide state-of-the-art facilities and access to the Southern Sky to European astronomers, it is famous for building and operating some of the largest and most technologically advanced telescopes in the world, such as the New Technology Telescope (NTT), the telescope that pioneered active optics technology, and the VLT (Very Large Telescope), consisting of four 8-meter class telescopes and four 1.8-m Auxiliary Telescopes.
Its numerous observing facilities have made many astronomical discoveries, and produced several astronomical catalogues. Among the more recent discoveries is the discovery of the farthest gamma-ray burst and the evidence for a black hole at the centre of our Galaxy, the Milky Way. In 2004, the VLT allowed astronomers to obtain the first picture of an extrasolar planet, 2M1207b, orbiting a brown dwarf 173 light-years away. The HARPS spectrograph led to the discoveries of many other extrasolar planet, including a 5 earth mass planet around a red dwarf, Gliese 581c. The VLT has also discovered the candidate farthest galaxy ever seen by humans, Abell 1835 IR1916.