Picture of the Week

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potw1327a — Picture of the Week
Maëlle's New Toys
8 July 2013: Astronomy and telescopes can sometimes bring out our inner child. In a testament to human curiosity, astronomers keep building ever-larger instruments in remote places throughout the world. ESO Astronomer Julien Girard snapped this cute picture of his daughter during a family day at Paranal Observatory, in the Chilean Andes. Thanks to a trick of perspective, little Maëlle seems to be looking into the open dome of one of the 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). Although the telescopes are used for serious scientific research, astronomers can sometimes feel like children when playing with such giant “toys”. Julien Girard is an ESO astronomer and an ESO Photo Ambassador based in Chile, working at the VLT. He is the instrument scientist for the NACO adaptive optics instrument on the VLT’s Unit Telescope 4. He submitted this photograph to the Your ESO Pictures Flickr group, from where it was picked ...
potw1326 — Picture of the Week
European Antennas at ALMA’s Operations Support Facility
1 July 2013: In this photograph from 2012, we see antennas destined to become part of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). The three antennas in the foreground, as well as some of those in the background, were supplied by ESO as part of its contribution to ALMA, through a contract with the European AEM Consortium [1]. In total ESO is providing 25 of the 12-metre-diameter antennas. A further twenty-five 12-metre antennas are provided by the North American ALMA partner, while the remainder, a set of twelve 7-metre and four 12-metre antennas comprising the Atacama Compact Array, are provided by the East Asian ALMA partner. The antennas are seen here at ALMA’s Operations Support Facility (OSF), at an altitude of 2900 metres in the foothills of the Chilean Andes. Those in the foreground are in the AEM Site Erection Facility, where the antennas are assembled and rigorously tested before they are handed over ...
potw1325 — Picture of the Week
Moonlight and Zodiacal Light Over La Silla
24 June 2013: What may look like a futuristic city out of a science fiction story, floating high above the clouds, is ESO’s longest-serving observatory, La Silla. This photograph was taken by astronomer Alan Fitzsimmons while standing near the ESO 3.6-metre telescope just after sunset. The Moon is located just outside the frame of this picture, bathing the observatory in an eerie light that is reflected off the clouds below. The very faint band of glowing golden light just above the clouds still illuminated by the sunset is the zodiacal light. It is caused by sunlight diffused by dust particles between the Sun and the planets. This can only be seen just after sunset or just before sunrise, at particular times of year, from very good sites. Several telescopes can be seen in this photograph. For example, the large angular structure at the end of the road is the New Technology Telescope (NTT). ...
potw1324 — Picture of the Week
Thunderbolts and lightning
17 June 2013: In this electrifying image, taken on Friday 7 June 2013, a furious thunderstorm is discharging its mighty rage over Cerro Paranal. The colossal enclosures of the four VLT Unit Telescopes, each one the size of an eight-storey building, are dwarfed under the hammering of the powerful storm. In the left of the image, a solitary star has emerged to witness the show — a single point of light against an obscured sky. This star is Procyon, a bright binary star in the constellation of Canis Minor (The Lesser Dog). Clouds over ESO’s Paranal Observatory are a rare sight. On average, the site experiences an astonishing 330 clear days every year. Lightning is even rarer, as the observatory is located in one of the driest places in the world: the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile, 2600 metres above sea level. If there are any clouds, most of the time the observatory ...
potw1323 — Picture of the Week
The Rise and Fall of a Supernova
10 June 2013: An unusual new video sequence shows the rapid brightening and slower fading of a supernova explosion in the galaxy NGC 1365. The supernova, which has been named SN 2012fr, was discovered by French astronomer Alain Klotz on the 27 October 2012. The images captured by the small TAROT robotic telescope, located at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, have been compiled to create this unique movie. Supernovae are the results of the explosive and cataclysmic deaths of certain types of stars. They are so brilliant that they can outshine their entire parent galaxy for many weeks before slowly fading from sight. The supernova 2012fr [1] was discovered by Alain Klotz on the afternoon of 27 October 2012. He was busy measuring the brightness of a faint variable star in an image from the TAROT (Télescope à Action Rapide pour les Objets Transitoires) robotic telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory, when ...
potw1322 — Picture of the Week
Three Planets Dance Over La Silla
3 June 2013: It’s a real treat for photographers and astronomers alike: our skies are currently witnessing a phenomenon known as a syzygy — when three celestial bodies (or more) nearly align themselves in the sky. When celestial bodies have similar ecliptic longitude, this event is also known as a triple near-conjunction. Of course, this is just a trick of perspective, but this doesn't make it any less spectacular. In this case, these bodies are three planets, and the only thing needed to enjoy the show is a clear view of the sky at sunset. Luckily, this is what happened for ESO photo ambassador Yuri Beletsky, who had the chance to spot this spectacular view from ESO's La Silla Observatory in northern Chile on Sunday 26 May. Above the round domes of the telescopes, three of the planets in our Solar System — Jupiter (top), Venus (lower left), and Mercury (lower right) — ...
potw1321 — Picture of the Week
Ripples Across the Chilean Sky
27 May 2013: At first sight, this mesmerising image might look like the waves caused by a stone thrown into a lake. And yet, this is the result of the apparent motion of the stars through the southern sky and some magic performed by the photographer. The image was taken at Cerro Armazones, a mountain peak 3060 metres above sea level, which lies in the central part of the Atacama Desert, in the Chilean Andes. The long bright stripes are star trails and each one marks the path of a single star across the dark night sky. By leaving the camera’s shutter open for a long period of time, the movement of the stars, imperceptible to the naked eye, is revealed. Exposure times of as little as 15 minutes are long enough to do the trick. In this case, the photographer combined many shorter exposures to form the final image. The very wide-angle ...
potw1320 — Picture of the Week
Admiring the Galaxy
20 May 2013: It is difficult for even the most seasoned astronomer to resist taking time out of a busy observing schedule to stop and stare up at the gloriously rich southern sky. This image is a self portrait taken by astronomer Alan Fitzsimmons, who took this photo between observing sessions at ESO’s La Silla Observatory. This bold photo shows the contrast between a simple, still and dark figure on Earth and the brilliant and bright starry night sky. In this picture, the sky is dominated by the enormous splash of stars and dust which make up the centre of the Milky Way, our home galaxy. ESO’s observatories are located in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, a region with very few inhabitants, which combines very dark nights with extremely clear atmospheric conditions, both factors conducive to making high quality observations. La Silla is ESO’s first observatory. Inaugurated in 1969, it is home ...
potw1319 — Picture of the Week
Milky Way Shines over Snowy La Silla
13 May 2013: In the outskirts of the Atacama Desert, far from the light-polluted cities of northern Chile, the skies are pitch-black after sunset. Such dark skies allow some of the best astronomical observing to take place — and at an altitude of 2400 metres, ESO’s La Silla Observatory has an incredibly clear view of the night sky. However, even such a remote, high, and dry location cannot always escape the weather that sometimes comes with the winter months, when blankets of snow can cover the mountain peak and its telescope domes. This image shows a wintry La Silla sitting beneath a spray of stars from our Milky Way, the plane of which slants across the frame. Visible (from right to left) are the ESO 3.6-metre telescope, the 3.58-metre New Technology Telescope (NTT), the ESO 1-metre Schmidt telescope, and the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope, which has snow on its dome. The small dome of ...
potw1318 — Picture of the Week
Lore on the Move
6 May 2013: In this photograph one of the two ALMA transporters, Lore, is carrying one of the 7-metre-diameter antennas of ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array. Lore and her twin, Otto, are two bright yellow 28-wheeled vehicles, custom-built to move ALMA’s antennas around on the Chajnantor Plateau at an elevation of 5000 metres. By doing this, they can reconfigure the telescope array to make the most useful observations of a given target. They also move antennas between Chajnantor and the lower altitude Operations Support Facility for maintenance.ALMA has a main array of fifty 12-metre-diameter antennas, and an additional array of twelve 7-metre antennas and four 12-metre antennas, known as the Atacama Compact Array (ACA). Lore is carrying one of the smaller, 7-metre antennas of the ACA. The 12-metre antennas of the main array cannot be placed closer than 15 metres apart as they would otherwise bump into each other. This minimum separation ...
potw1317 — Picture of the Week
Wings for Science Fly Over ALMA
29 April 2013: This beautiful image, taken in December 2012, shows the array of antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) [1], the largest astronomy project in existence, located at the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes. The large antennas are 12 metres in diameter, and the smaller ones, gathered together in the middle of the image, form the ALMA Compact Array (ACA), which is made up of 12 antennas with a diameter of 7 metres. When the array is completed, there will be a total of 66 antennas. ESO has initiated an outreach partnership with the ORA Wings for Science project, a non-profit organisation which offers aerial support to public research while on a year-long journey around the world. The two crew members of the Wings for Science Project, Clémentine Bacri and Adrien Normier, fly a special environmentally friendly ultralight [2] to help out scientists by providing aerial capabilities ranging from ...
potw1316 — Picture of the Week
Silver and Blue at Paranal
22 April 2013: What might count as a beautifully clear day anywhere else in the world is actually an unusually cloudy day at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in the Atacama Desert. As this is one of the driest places on the planet, it is very uncommon to see clouds in the sky. Many astronomers and engineers who spend time at the site find the cloudless sky one of the most striking things about working in the Atacama Desert. This gorgeous 360-degree panorama photo, taken by ESO contractor Dirk Essl in 15 separate exposures, has captured one of the rare days with clouds at Paranal. A few thin, wispy cirrus clouds can be seen above the enclosures of the Very Large Telescope. These clouds form at high altitudes and are made up of tiny ice crystals.Paranal Observatory receives less than 10 millimetres of rainfall per year, which is just one of the reasons why this ...
potw1315 — Picture of the Week
Under the Spell of the Magellanic Clouds
15 April 2013: This beautiful image of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), showing the telescope’s antennas under a breathtaking starry night sky, comes from Christoph Malin, an ESO Photo Ambassador. This is a still frame taken from one of his painstakingly created time-lapse videos of ALMA, which are also available (see ann12099).Located on the Chajnantor Plateau at an elevation of 5000 metres, ALMA is the world’s most powerful telescope for studying the Universe at submillimetre and millimetre wavelengths. Construction work for ALMA will be completed in 2013, and a total of 66 of these high-precision antennas will be operating on the site. Glowing brightly in the sky, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds stand out above the antennas. These nearby irregular dwarf galaxies are conspicuous objects in the southern hemisphere, even with the naked eye. These galaxies are both orbiting the Milky Way — our galaxy — and there is evidence that ...
potw1314 — Picture of the Week
A Sparkling Ribbon of Stars — The Southern Milky Way over La Silla
8 April 2013: This panoramic photograph, taken by Alexandre Santerne, shows an insider’s view of the disc of the Milky Way, our home galaxy, as well as a cold winter’s night, with a sprinkling of snow at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. From our vantage point within it, the disc of the Milky Way appears as a sparkling ribbon of stars stretching across the sky. In this panorama, the Milky Way is distorted into an arc by the wide-angle projection. Peeking over the hill on the left of this photo is the ESO 3.6-metre telescope, home to the world's foremost exoplanet hunter, HARPS (the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher). On the far right is the Swiss 1.2-metre Leonhard Euler Telescope, built and operated by the Geneva Observatory. There are a number of reasons why La Silla is such an ideal location for observing the night sky in general, and the Milky ...
potw1313 — Picture of the Week
Stars Circle over the Residencia at Cerro Paranal
1 April 2013: This image from ESO Photo Ambassador Farid Char, of the southern night sky over the Residencia “hotel” at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile, presents a beautifully star-filled and dynamic view of the heavens. To make the swirling star trails on this image, Farid used a 30-minute exposure to reveal the observed movement of the stars due to the rotation of the Earth. In the centre is the apparently still point of the south celestial pole. On the left, and at the top of the image, are the extended blurs of the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, neighbouring galaxies of the Milky Way. The dark glass dome below the circling stars is part of the roof of the Residencia building. This unique partially subterranean construction has been in use since 2002 by scientists and engineers working at the observatory. During the day, the 35-metre-wide dome allows natural daylight into the building. ...
potw1312a — Picture of the Week
The Lost Galaxy
25 March 2013: This image depicts the galaxy NGC 4535, in the constellation of Virgo (The Maiden), on a beautiful background full of many distant faint galaxies. Its almost circular appearance shows that we observe it nearly face-on. In the centre of the galaxy, there is a well-defined bar structure, with dust lanes that curve sharply before the spiral arms break from the ends of the bar. The bluish colour of the spiral arms points to the presence of a large number of hot young stars. In the centre, however, older and cooler stars give the bulge of the galaxy a yellower appearance. This visible image was made with the FORS1 instrument on ESO’s 8.2-metre Very Large Telescope. The galaxy can also be seen through smaller amateur telescopes, and was first observed by William Herschel in 1785. When seen through a smaller telescope, NGC 4535 has a hazy, ghostly appearance, which inspired the ...
potw1311 — Picture of the Week
Catching Light
18 March 2013: Research telescopes sport state-of-the-art cameras which, together with the big mirrors needed for a large collecting area, allow astronomers to catch the faint light of deep sky objects. But you can also produce beautiful images without big telescopes and using more modest cameras. Astrophotographers use more conventional cameras to capture images of astronomical objects, often on a larger scale than the observations made with big telescopes. Sometimes, they include the landscape in their composition, producing beautiful postcards of the Universe as seen from Earth. For example, this Picture of the Week shows the 3.58-metre New Technology Telescope (NTT), located at ESO’s La Silla Observatory, and set against the starry background of the southern sky. Standing out in the image, the Milky Way — our home galaxy — can be seen as a hazy stripe across the sky. Dark regions within the Milky Way are areas where the light from background ...
potw1310 — Picture of the Week
Comets and Shooting Stars Dance Over Paranal
11 March 2013: This impressive picture was taken on 5 March 2013 by Gabriel Brammer, one of the ESO Photo Ambassadors, and shows a sunset view of the Paranal Observatory, featuring two comets that are currently moving across the southern skies. Close to the horizon, on the right-hand side of the image, Comet C/2011 L4 (Pan-STARRS), the brightest of the two, shows a bright tail that is caused mainly by dust reflecting the sunlight. In the centre of the image, just above the right-hand slopes of Cerro Paranal, the greenish coma — a nebulous envelope around the nucleus — of Comet C/2012 F6 (Lemmon) can be distinguished, followed by a fainter tail. The green colour is a result of the ionisation of gases in the coma by sunlight. You might even be tricked into thinking that there is a third comet visible in this photo, but the bright object whizzing between comets Lemmon and ...
potw1309 — Picture of the Week
Snow Comes to the Atacama Desert
4 March 2013: The Atacama Desert is one of the driest places in the world. Several factors contribute to its arid conditions. The magnificent Andes mountain range and the Chilean Coast Range block the clouds from the east and west, respectively. In addition, the cold offshore Humboldt Current in the Pacific Ocean, which creates a coastal inversion layer of cool air, hinders the formation of rain clouds. Moreover, a region of high pressure in the south-eastern Pacific Ocean creates circulating winds, forming an anticyclone, which also helps to keep the climate of the Atacama Desert dry. These arid conditions were a major factor for ESO in placing the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Paranal, in the Atacama Desert. At the Paranal Observatory, located on the summit of Cerro Paranal, the precipitation levels are usually below ten millimetres per year, with the humidity often dropping below 10%. The observational conditions are excellent, with over ...
potw1308 — Picture of the Week
The Comet and the Laser
25 February 2013: Gerhard Hüdepohl, one of the ESO Photo Ambassadors, captured this spectacular image of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) during the testing of a new laser for the VLT 14 February 2013. It will be used as a vital part of the Laser Guide Star Facility (LGSF), which allows astronomers to correct for most of the disturbances caused by the constant movement of the atmosphere in order to create much sharper images. Nevertheless, is hard not to think of it as a futuristic laser cannon being pointed towards some kind of distant space invader. As well as the amazing view of the Milky Way seen over the telescope, there is another feature making this picture even more special. To the right of the centre of the image, just below the Small Magellanic Cloud and almost hidden among the myriad stars seen in the dark Chilean sky, there is a green dot with a faint tail ...
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