Picture of the Week

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potw1509 — Picture of the Week
ESO’s New Technology Telescope Revisits NGC 6300
2 March 2015: This image shows the bright centre and swirling arms of the spiral galaxy NGC 6300. NGC 6300 is located in a starry patch of sky in the southern constellation of Ara (The Altar) which contains a variety of intriguing deep-sky objects. NGC 6300 has beautiful pinwheeling arms connected by a straight bar that cuts through the middle of the galaxy. While it may look like a standard spiral galaxy in visible-light images like this one, it is actually a Seyfert II galaxy. Such galaxies have unusually luminous centres that emit very energetic radiation, meaning that they are often intensely bright in part of the spectrum either side of the visible. NGC 6300 is thought to contain a massive black hole at its heart some 300 000 times more massive than the Sun. This black hole is emitting high energy X-rays as it is fed by the material that is pulled into ...
potw1508 — Picture of the Week
Spatterings of Stars and Snow
23 February 2015: This stunning panorama shows the Licancabur volcano, just left of centre, high on the Chajnantor Plateau near to the site of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). The spattering of white objects in the sky, though it could be mistaken for snow, is in fact stars. Licancabur stands some 5920 metres high, located on the border between Chile and Bolivia. The border between the two countries cuts across the northeastern slope of the volcano, meaning that the lower two thirds of this northeastern slope actually belong to Bolivia. The sweep of white in the foreground of this image is made up of tall, thin blades of hardened snow and ice. These icy needles, known as penitentes, are a natural phenomenon found in the region (potw1221). Not so natural is the glow to the left of the image emanating from the street lights of the small Chilean town, San Pedro de ...
potw1507 — Picture of the Week
New Dawn at La Silla
16 February 2015: The transition from night to day is captured in this new photograph of ESO's La Silla Observatory. The Moon hangs low to the left of this image, diluted by the morning Sun. This image, taken by ESO Photo Ambassador Alexandre Santerne captures ESO's 3.6-metre telescope on the top right. The telescope, which is located 2400 metres above sea level and is here silhouetted by the shadows of dawn, was inaugurated in 1976. It currently operates with the HARPS spectrograph, the most prolific exoplanet hunting machine in the world. La Silla is ESO's first observatory. Inaugurated in 1969 it is located 600 kilometres north of Santiago at the edge of the Chilean Atacama Desert. La Silla was the largest astronomical observatory of its time, leading Europe to the front line of astronomical research. As illustrated in this image, the skies above La Silla provide crystal clear conditions for astronomical viewing with ...
potw1506 — Picture of the Week
An Astronomer’s Outlook
9 February 2015: Step outside the control room of the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at night, and you will be greeted with a jaw-dropping sight. Thousands of stars cover the sky and the Milky Way stretches from one horizon to another. In this image, the dark lanes of the Milky Way are visible, dense clouds of dust and gas that block out the light from background stars. The varying colours of the surrounding visible stars result from their different ages and temperatures — young, hot stars are very blue-white in colour, whilst the older, cooler generation appear more orange or red. For the astronomers, a sight like this means that good data is on the way due to the lack of polluting moonlight. In order to help keep the sky as dark as possible, any lights within rooms not currently in use inside the control building are turned off and blackout blinds are ...
potw1505 — Picture of the Week
Midsummer Night Brings Sprites — Rare phenomenon caught on camera at La Silla
2 February 2015: This unique and spectacular image of ESO’s La Silla Observatory features a cloudless sky stained with red and green airglow and bejewelled with celestial objects. Amongst the celestial cast are the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds just to the right of centre, the rosy-red glow of various star-forming regions and the faint green streak of a meteor just to the left of the Milky Way. These striking heavenly regulars are eclipsed however by the presence of something far more elusive and much closer to home. The six panels below the main image magnify a series of extremely rare atmospheric phenomenon known as sprites. A few hours before daybreak — signalled by the spire of zodiacal light rising from the base of the Milky Way — a powerful thunderstorm appeared on the distant horizon, and the Earth’s upper atmosphere became a playground for these ephemeral events. Named after Shakespeare’s mischievous sprites ...
potw1504 — Picture of the Week
Celestial Nomad Takes Centre Stage
26 January 2015: In this new ESO image, nightfall raises the curtain on a theatrical display taking place in the cloudless skies over La Silla. In a scene humming with activity, the major players captured here are Comet Lovejoy, glowing green in the centre of the image; the Pleiades above and to the right; and the California Nebula, providing some contrast in the form of a red arc of gas directly to the right of Lovejoy. A meteor adds its own streak of light to the scene, seeming to plunge into the hazy pool of green light collecting along the horizon. The telescopes of La Silla provide an audience for this celestial performance, and a thin shroud of low altitude cloud clings to the plain below the observatory streaked by the Panamericana Highway. Comet Lovejoy’s long tail is being pushed away from the comet by the solar wind. Carbon compounds that have been excited by ...
potw1503 — Picture of the Week
Sunset and Moonset
19 January 2015: This striking new image shows ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile soon after sunset. The last rays of the day create a spectacular orange haze as they pass through the dusty lower levels of the atmosphere, setting a perfect scene for this picture of the week. In this long exposure image we can see star trails caused by the movement of stars across the sky as the earth rotates. These tracks look a little like dotted lines, an effect caused by combining a number of individual shots taken with short gaps in between. The crookedness at the bottom of the star trails is due to the camera moving out of place. The path of the crescent Moon can also be seen towards the lower left of the frame as it slowly sets, appearing to sink into the Pacific Ocean. The moon is not trailed as it was taken with a series ...
potw1502 — Picture of the Week
A Flat Armazones
12 January 2015: Coated in a layer of ashen dust and littered with heavy equipment vehicles, the peak of Cerro Armazones appears conspicuously flattened as efforts continue to craft a platform for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). This shot of the monumental work in progress was taken from a quadcopter by ESO Photo Ambassador Gerd Hüdepohl, allowing a stretch of the Chilean Coastal Range, with Cerro Paranal and the Very Large Telescope, to be unveiled as a dramatic backdrop. The Atacama Desert and its crumpled mountains unfurl outwards, dissolving into a hazy blue towards the horizon. They provide a largely featureless but quietly arresting stage for the E-ELT, which will serve as the world’s largest optical and near-infrared telescope. The clear skies of the Atacama provide the E-ELT with the perfect conditions to see the Universe with a sharpness far exceeding even that of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. When operational, this ...
potw1501 — Picture of the Week
Wings for Science Fly Over APEX
5 January 2015: High on the Chajnantor Plateau in Chile’s Atacama region, at a breathtaking altitude of 5100 metres, ESO operates the  Atacama Pathfinder Experiment telescope, APEX. APEX is a pathfinder for ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, a revolutionary new telescope that ESO, together with its international partners, has built close to APEX on the Chajnantor Plateau. APEX is based on a prototype 12-metre antenna constructed for the ALMA project, and it is finding many targets that ALMA will be able to study in greater detail. This spectacular aerial image was taken in December 2012 by Clémentine Bacri and Adrien Normier, the two crew members of the non-profit organisation ORA Wings for Science project, who are flying a special eco-friendly ultralight aeroplane on a year-long journey around the world. While on route, they help out scientists with aerial capabilities ranging from air sampling to archaeology, biodiversity observation and 3D terrain modelling. ESO ...
potw1452 — Picture of the Week
Is it a Bird…?
29 December 2014: Here we see a swirling starscape above ESO’s La Silla Observatory. A long series of individual images have been combined to form this striking shot, allowing the motion of the Earth to be captured as it rotates, with stars producing long trails around the sky’s south pole as it does so. The familiar silver dome of the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope is seen in the foreground. Moving into the shot, we next see the white dome of the ESO 1-metre Schmidt telescope, the rectangular building of the New Technology Telescope, and at the back, the double domes of the ESO 3.6-metre telescope with its adjacent smaller sibling, the now-decommissioned Coudé Auxiliary Telescope. But what are those streaks in the sky? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Well, yes, it is indeed a plane. In fact, if you look very closely, you can see not one, but three horizontal trails ...
potw1451 — Picture of the Week
Season’s Greetings from the European Southern Observatory!
22 December 2014: Season’s Greetings on behalf of everyone at the European Southern Observatory! We wish you happy holidays, a good start into the next year and a fruitful 2015! Links: Christmas card 2014
potw1450 — Picture of the Week
Rainbow Rising
15 December 2014: Rainbows are widely appreciated for the welcome touch of colour they can bring to an otherwise dark and dreary day, and this rainbow is no exception. This rare rainbow appears over the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) Operations Support Facility (OSF), which lies some 2900 metres above sea level close to San Pedro de Atacama. The OSF is the base camp for the ALMA site, which is significantly higher at over 5000 metres up on the Chajnantor Plateau. The OSF isn’t just a location for operating the giant ALMA Observatory; it is also where new technologies are assembled, integrated, and verified before they are transported to their final destination on Chajnantor. The technology has to be assembled and tested at the OSF because the air is much denser there than on the plateau, and workers can complete their tasks without the adverse health risks associated with working at high altitude. ...
potw1449 — Picture of the Week
Sitting at the Top of a Cloud
8 December 2014: La Silla sits at the lowest height above sea level of all ESO’s observatories in Chile. At 2400 metres, it is around 200 metres lower than Paranal and sits at half the altitude of ALMA, which resides on top of Chajnantor at an ear-popping 5000 metres above sea level. Despite being the lowest observatory in terms of elevation, scientists at La Silla are still reminded of the extreme altitude when they step outside and see spectacles like this one — clouds just beneath their feet! As La Silla is in the Southern outskirts of the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on Earth, it may come as a surprise to see cloud formations in the region, but this arid climate is the result of the Peruvian Humboldt Current. This current is caused by the upward movement of cold water from the depths of the nearby Pacific Ocean, and flows ...
potw1448 — Picture of the Week
Surprise within a Cloud
1 December 2014: This image shows a region of the Milky Way that lies within the constellation of Scorpius, close to the central plane of the galaxy. The region hosts a dense cloud of dust and gas associated with the molecular cloud IRAS 16562-3959, clearly visible as an orange smudge among the rich pool of stars at the centre of the image. Clouds like these are breeding grounds for new stars. In the centre of this cloud the bright object known as G345.4938+01.4677 can just be seen beyond the veil of gas and dust. This is a very young star in the process of forming as the cloud collapses under gravity. The young star is very bright and heavy —  roughly 15 times more massive than the Sun — and featured in a recent Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) result. The team of astronomers made surprising discoveries within G345.4938+01.4677 — there is a large ...
potw1447 — Picture of the Week
Seeing into the Heart of Mira A and its Partner
24 November 2014: Studying red giant stars tells astronomers about the future of the Sun — and about how previous generations of stars spread the elements needed for life across the Universe. One of the most famous red giants in the sky is called Mira A, part of the binary system Mira which lies about 400 light-years from Earth. In this image ALMA reveals Mira’s secret life. Mira A is an old star, already starting to throw out the products of its life’s work into space for recycling. Mira A’s companion, known as Mira B, orbits it at twice the distance from the Sun to Neptune. Mira A is known to have a slow wind which gently moulds the surrounding material. ALMA has now confirmed that Mira’s companion is a very different kind of star, with a very different wind. Mira B is a hot, dense white dwarf with a fierce and fast ...
potw1446 — Picture of the Week
Heavy Metal
17 November 2014: Have you ever wondered what the inside of ESO's Very Large Telescope looks like? Well, wonder no more, as this picture of the week shows the internal structure of one of the VLT's Unit Telescopes (UTs) — specifically UT3, otherwise known as Melipal. Seen here, lit by moonlight, is the main steel structure of the Unit Telescope's optical assembly. The main mirror, measuring 8.2 metres in diameter and weighing in at more than 23 tonnes, requires a sturdy frame to allow it to rotate within the structure, while maintaining high optical resolution. This movable steel frame itself weighs over 430 tonnes, about the same as a fully loaded jumbo jet! The structure, optics and electronics are housed within a further steel enclosure, which provides protection from the harsh Atacama environment. Melipal is named after the Mapuche term for the constellation of the Southern Cross. All four of the VLT's Unit ...
potw1445 — Picture of the Week
Making Way for Construction of the ESO Supernova
10 November 2014: This week removal of the temporary office buildings at the ESO Headquarters in Garching, Germany began. This image shows them being dismantled, and captures both the beginning, and end, of an era. The ESO staff members who had been working in the temporary buildings — seen here in this aerial photo taken earlier this year — moved into the new Headquarters extension at the beginning of this year. The removal of the containers marks the end of this transition period. It also marks the beginning of the construction of the ESO Supernova Planetarium & Visitor Centre. In a few months, on the site once occupied by the temporary office buildings, the construction of ESO’s newest building will begin. The ESO Supernova is scheduled to open in mid-2017 and will offer its visitors a modern, interactive astronomical exhibition and one of the most advanced planetariums in the world. The removal of ...
potw1444 — Picture of the Week
Scarlet and Smoke
3 November 2014: The smokey black silhouette in this new image is part of a large, sparse cloud of partially ionised hydrogen — an HII region — known as Gum 15. In wide-field images this nebula appears as a striking reddish purple clump dotted with stars and slashed by opaque, weaving dust lanes. This image homes in on one of these dust lanes, showing the central region of the nebula. These dark chunks of sky have seemingly few stars because lanes of dusty material are obscuring the bright, glowing regions of gas beyond. The occasional stars that do show up in these patches are actually between us and Gum 15, but create the illusion that we are peering through a window out onto the more distant sky. Gum 15 is shaped by the aggressive winds flowing from the stars within and around it. The cloud is located near to several large associations of ...
potw1443 — Picture of the Week
A Guiding Star
27 October 2014: A solitary laser beam cuts through the night sky. It streaks upwards from Unit Telescope 4 of ESO's Very Large Telescope, located at Paranal Observatory in Chile. The two Magellanic Clouds are visible to the left of the beam as faint, fuzzy patches against the starry background. The particularly bright star to the right of the beam is Canopus, the second brightest star in our night sky after Sirius. When ground-based telescopes view stars, the light they collect must travel through the layers of our atmosphere. The same water vapour, pollution, and turbulence that causes the stars in the sky to twinkle also result in blurred images — so in comes a technique known as adaptive optics. Adaptive optics systems use sophisticated deformable mirrors to counteract the negative effects of our atmosphere. The laser shines up into the sky, creating an artificial star about 90 kilometres from the ground.  Astronomers ...
potw1442 — Picture of the Week
Open House Day 2014
20 October 2014: This photograph from the ESO Open House Day 2014 shows children and adults listening to the adventures of Space Rock Pedro. This was one of the sixteen activities available when ESO Headquarters in Garching, Germany, opened its doors to the public on 11 October 2014. In conjunction with the other facilities based at the science campus in Garching, ESO invited visitors to experience at first hand the work of the world-leading ground-based astronomy organisation. Before the doors had even opened at 11:00 people were waiting outside, eager to look around the new headquarters and experience all the main activities available. In total, 3300 people took the chance to have their questions answered by experienced astronomers; see live experiments; join guided tours through the new office and technical buildings; listen to talks about ongoing astronomical research; and even participate in live interviews with astronomers in the Chilean Atacama Desert. Also included ...
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