he Federative Republic of Brazil is set to become the newest member state of the European Southern Observatory, a leading intergovernmental astronomy organization.

In a ceremony held in Brasilia yesterday (Dec. 29), Brazilian Minister of Science and Technology, Sergio Machado Rezende, and ESO Director General, Tim de Zeeuw, signed the formal accession agreement that paves the way for the country's membership within ESO. [Gallery - Cosmic Visions from Paranal Observatory]

Brazil's impending membership was unanimously approved by the ESO Council in a meeting held Dec. 21, but the agreement must now be submitted to the Brazilian Parliament for approval. Following government ratification, Brazil will become the fifteenth member state and the first from outside Europe.

"Joining ESO will give new impetus to the development of science, technology and innovation in Brazil as part of the considerable efforts our government is making to keep the country advancing in these strategic areas," Rezende said.

The European Southern Observatory has had a history of successful involvement with South American nations, ever since Chile was selected as the best site for its observatories in 1963. Until now, however, no non-European country has joined ESO as a member state.