Picture of the Week

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potw1348 — Picture of the Week
Zodiacal Glow Lightens Paranal Sky
2 December 2013: This impressive photograph, taken at the site of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Paranal Observatory in Chile, shows, towards the centre left, the Milky Way — with its share of nebulae, stars, and gas clouds — rising above the VLT Unit Telescopes. To the right, competing for attention as it arcs above the horizon, a beautiful, almost triangular band of diffuse light lies along the ecliptic, which is the apparent path of the Sun in the sky as seen from the Earth. This glow originates in the scattering of sunlight by dust located between the planets that are spread through the plane of the Solar System. This coincides in the sky with the band known as the Zodiac, which extends for eight degrees of arc on either side of the ecliptic and contains the traditional zodiacal constellations.
potw1347 — Picture of the Week
Ancient Constellations over ALMA
25 November 2013: Babak Tafreshi, one of the ESO Photo Ambassadors, has captured the antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in an enthralling image combining the beauty of the southern sky with the amazing dimensions of the biggest astronomical project in the world. Thousands of stars are revealed to the naked eye in the clear skies over the Chajnantor Plateau. Its dry and transparent night sky is one of the reasons ALMA has been built here. Surprisingly bright in the upper left corner of the picture, there is a tightly packed bunch of young stars, the Pleiades Cluster, which was already known to most ancient civilisations. The constellation of Orion (The Hunter) is clearly visible over the closest of the antennas — the hunter’s belt is formed by the three blue stars just to the left of the red light. According to classic mythology, Orion was a hunter who chased the ...
potw1346 — Picture of the Week
New Image of Comet ISON
18 November 2013: This new view of Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) was taken with the TRAPPIST national telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory on the morning of Friday 15 November 2013. Comet ISON was first spotted in our skies in September 2012, and will make its closest approach to the Sun in late November 2013. TRAPPIST has been monitoring comet ISON since mid-October, using broad-band filters like those used in this image. It has also been using special narrow-band filters which isolate the emission of various gases, allowing astronomers to count how many molecules of each type are released by the comet. Comet ISON was fairly quiet until 1 November 2013, when a first outburst doubled the amount of gas emitted by the comet. On 13 November, just before this image was taken, a second giant outburst shook the comet, increasing its activity by a factor of ten. It is now bright enough ...
potw1345 — Picture of the Week
ALMA Panoramic View with Carina Nebula
11 November 2013: ESO Photo Ambassador, Babak Tafreshi captured this panoramic view of the antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) under the clear sky over the Chajnantor Plateau, in the Chilean Andes. The rosy patch prominent at the left of the image is the Carina Nebula. It lies in the constellation of Carina (The Keel), about 7500 light-years from Earth. This cloud of glowing gas and dust is the one of brightest nebulae in the sky and contains several of the brightest and most massive stars known in the Milky Way, such as Eta Carinae. For some beautiful recent images of the Carina Nebula from ESO, see eso1208, eso1145, and eso1031. ALMA, an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA construction and operations are led on behalf of Europe by ESO, on behalf of North America by ...
potw1344 — Picture of the Week
Equine Visitors
4 November 2013: On a dark September night at  ESO’s La Silla Observatory, after spending the night at the telescope, astronomer Klaas Wiersema was returning to the restaurant. Most of the work at an observatory takes place at night, so it is not rare to have scientists and technicians walking around in the darkness. This time, something unexpected happened. Suddenly, Klaas heard a loud snort behind him and the sound of massive feet chasing him. He was convinced that some kind of angry animal had emerged from its lair and was trying to hunt him down, so he ran like the wind. He couldn’t imagine what kind of beast was chasing him on the desolate slopes of the Atacama Desert, at 2400 metres above sea level, so he spent the rest of the night trying figure out the mystery. When daylight came he went exploring, only to find that he had passed too ...
potw1343 — Picture of the Week
Flaming Sky over Paranal
28 October 2013: In this ghostly night picture, taken at Paranal Observatory, we can see three out of four VLT Auxiliary Telescopes. Each one of them is a 1.8-metre telescope designed to work along with the other three as a single telescope, thanks to the VLT Interferometer. In the background, the quiet beauty of the Atacama sky is enhanced by a red aurora-like shimmer, called airglow, which is caused by light-emitting chemical reactions in the atmosphere. Normally, those emissions are not so strong, but the night this image was taken they were unusually bright, producing this unusual picture.
potw1342 — Picture of the Week
Two naked-eye galaxies above the VLT
21 October 2013: This stunning image of the clear Chilean sky shows a speckling of bright stars and distant galaxies across the frame, all suspended above one of the four Unit Telescopes (UTs) of the Very Large Telescope (VLT). This is the fourth UT and it is known as Yepun (Venus). Two objects seen in this frame are more famous than their neighbours. In the left hand portion of the image is a fairly prominent galaxy that forms a streak across the sky — Messier 31, or the Andromeda Galaxy. Upwards and to the right of this smudge is a bright star, which in turn points upwards to a galaxy that lies roughly along the same extended line. This star is named Beta Andromedae — otherwise known as Mirach — and the second galaxy is Messier 33 (at the top of the frame). These two galaxies are thought to have interacted in the ...
potw1341 — Picture of the Week
Surprise Cloud Around Vast Star
14 October 2013: This new picture from the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at ESO's Paranal Observatory shows the remarkable super star cluster Westerlund 1 (eso1034). This exceptionally bright cluster lies about 16 000 light-years from Earth in the southern constellation of Ara (The Altar). It contains hundreds of very massive and brilliant stars, all of which are just a few million years old — babies by stellar standards. But our view of this cluster is hampered by gas and dust that prevents most of the visible light from the cluster's stars from getting to Earth. Now, astronomers studying images of Westerlund 1 from a new survey of the southern skies [1] have spotted something unexpected in this cluster. Around one of the stars — known as W26, a red supergiant and possibly the biggest star known— they have discovered clouds of glowing hydrogen gas, shown as green features in this new image. Such ...
potw1340 — Picture of the Week
An Oasis, or a Secret Lair?
7 October 2013: This image shows a dark Chilean sky filled with spectacular star trails — caused by the Earth's rotation during the camera's long exposure time. Underneath these dramatic streaks lies the Paranal Residencia, an oasis to the staff and visitors to ESO's Very Large Telescope, located high on Cerro Paranal in the Chilean desert. Construction of the Residencia began in 1998 and was completed by 2002. Since then, it has offered a welcome break from the harsh, dry climate of the desert to the scientists and engineers who work at Paranal Observatory. The four-storey building has the majority of its structure buried underground. The facility was designed by German architects Auer+Weber to complement the surrounding environment. From certain angles, the combination of hi-tech utilitarian architecture and inconspicuous, almost camouflage-like design is reminiscent of a villain’s secret lair. Perhaps it is no surprise that the Residencia was selected as the setting for ...
potw1339 — Picture of the Week
Unveiling distant stars and galaxies
30 September 2013: This frame, scattered with distant stars and galaxies, is a deep-field image taken using the Wide Field Imager (WFI), a camera mounted on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope located at the La Silla Observatory, Chile. It was snapped as part of the COMBO-17 survey (Classifying Objects by Medium-Band Observations in 17 filters), a project that imaged five small patches of sky in 17 different coloured optical filters. The total area of sky explored in each of the COMBO-17 fields equates to approximately the same size as the full Moon, and has revealed huge numbers of distant objects — demonstrating just how much is still waiting to be discovered in our skies. The image shows a region that was also investigated as part of the FORS Deep Field (FDF), a project that examined various areas of sky in great detail and depth using the FORS2 spectrograph instrument currently installed on ESO’s Very ...
potw1338 — Picture of the Week
New Cool Starlet in Our Backyard
23 September 2013: This new image, from ESO’s VISTA telescope, shows a newly-discovered brown dwarf nicknamed VVV BD001, which is located at the very centre of this zoomable image. It is the first new brown dwarf spotted in our cosmic neighbourhood as part of the VVV Survey. VVV BD001 is located about 55 light-years away from us, towards the very crowded centre of our galaxy. Brown dwarfs are stars that never quite managed to grow up into a star like our Sun. They are often referred to as “failed stars”; they are larger in size than planets like Jupiter, but smaller than stars. This dwarf is peculiar in two ways; firstly, it is the first one found towards the centre of our Milky Way, one of the most crowded regions of the sky. Secondly, it belongs to an unusual class of stars known as “unusually blue brown dwarfs” — it is still unclear why these stars ...
potw1337 — Picture of the Week
Toconao Seen From Above
16 September 2013: The small village of Toconao is the closest settlement to the largest astronomy project in existence, ALMA [1], the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array. Toconao has less than 800 inhabitants and is located at 2475 metres above sea level in a natural oasis fed by a small mountain river on the outskirts of the driest desert in the world, the Atacama. The river doesn’t flow all year, but the local farmers have wisely built a network of dams and channels to regulate the flow of water so that they can have crops all year round. When looking closely at this image, some buildings can be spotted, made of traditional materials such as adobe and volcanic rock, like the San Lucas Church and Bell Tower, on the bottom left of the image. In parallel with their scientific work, ALMA staff have worked with the Atacameño Elders in Toconao and other areas to ...
potw1336 — Picture of the Week
Eyes over Cerro Armazones
9 September 2013: This spectacular aerial shot of Cerro Armazones, taken by ESO Photo Ambassador Gerhard Hüdepohl, represents that wonderful moment for a photographer: when everything lines up for the perfect shot. Hüdepohl captured this image while on a commercial flight from Antofagasta to Santiago. Shortly after taking off the plane took the ideal flight path for an aerial snap of Cerro Armazones — and Hüdepohl could not have asked for better conditions. Seizing the moment, he was able to capture this unusual perspective, high above the spectacular terrain. This image shows the Atacama Desert with amazing clarity, with the thin, zigzag path standing out sharply from the dusty terrain. This dirt road can be seen slicing its way up to the summit of Cerro Armazones. The site will soon become the home of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), a 39-metre telescope that will not only answer existing questions in astronomy, but ...
potw1335 — Picture of the Week
PESSTO Snaps Supernova in Messier 74
2 September 2013: ESO's PESSTO survey has captured this view of Messier 74, a stunning spiral galaxy with well-defined whirling arms. However, the real subject of this image is the galaxy's brilliant new addition from late July 2013: a Type II supernova named SN2013ej that is visible as the brightest star at the bottom left of the image. Such supernovae occur when the core of a massive star collapses due to its own gravity at the end of its life. This collapse results in a massive explosion that ejects material far into space. The resulting detonation can be more brilliant than the entire galaxy that hosts it and can be visible to observers for weeks, or even months. PESSTO (Public ESO Spectroscopic Survey for Transient Objects) is designed to study objects that appear briefly in the night sky, such as supernovae. It does this by utilising a number of instruments on the NTT ...
potw1334 — Picture of the Week
Carved by Massive Stars
26 August 2013: This image, captured by ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Paranal, shows a small part of the well-known emission nebula, NGC 6357, located some 8000 light-years away, in the tail of the southern constellation of Scorpius (The Scorpion). The image glows with the characteristic red of an H II region, and contains a large amount of ionised and excited hydrogen gas. The cloud is bathed in intense ultraviolet radiation — mainly from the open star cluster Pismis 24, home to some massive, young, blue stars — which it re-emits as visible light, in this distinctive red hue. The cluster itself is out of the field of view of this picture, its diffuse light seen illuminating the cloud on the centre-right of the image. We are looking at a close-up of the surrounding nebula, showing a mesh of gas, dark dust, and newly born and still forming stars.
potw1333 — Picture of the Week
Starry Night at La Silla
19 August 2013: A piercingly bright curtain of stars is the backdrop for this beautiful image taken by astronomer Håkon Dahle. The silhouetted figure in the foreground is Håkon himself surrounded by just a couple of the great dark domes that litter the mountain of ESO’s La Silla Observatory. Many professional astronomers are also keen photographers — and who could blame them? ESO sites in the Atacama Desert are among the best places on Earth for observing the stars, and for the same reason, are amazing places for photographing the night sky. Håkon took these photos while on a week-long observing run at the MPG/ESO 2.2 -telescope. During this time, the telescope was occasionally handed over to a different observing team, giving Håkon the opportunity to admire the starry night — as well as to capture it for the rest of us to see. The Milky Way is brighter in the Southern Hemisphere ...
potw1332 — Picture of the Week
The calm before the storm
12 August 2013: This beautiful image portrays the galaxies NGC 799 (below) and NGC 800 (above) located in the constellation of Cetus (The Whale). This pair of galaxies was first observed by the American astronomer Lewis Swift back in 1885. Located at a distance of about 300 million light-years, our face-on view allows us to clearly appreciate their shapes. Like the Milky Way — our galaxy — these objects are both spiral galaxies, with characteristic long arms winding towards a bright bulge at the centre. In the prominent spiral arms, a large number of hot, young, blue stars are forming in clusters (tiny blue dots seen in the image) whereas in the central bulge a large group of cooler, redder, old stars are packed into a compact, almost spherical region. At first glance, these galaxies look rather similar, but the devil is in the detail. Apart from the obvious difference in size, only ...
potw1331 — Picture of the Week
Belt of Venus over Cerro Paranal
5 August 2013: This photo shows the view to the east from Paranal Observatory, seconds after the Sun has disappeared behind the horizon. The orange glow of the sunset can be seen against the 1.8-metre VLT Auxiliary Telescopes, and the almost full Moon is hanging in the sky. But the image is more interesting still, thanks to an atmospheric phenomenon known as the Belt of Venus. The grey-bluish shadow above the horizon is the shadow of the Earth, and right above it is a pinkish glow. This phenomenon is produced by the reddened light of the setting Sun being backscattered by the Earth's atmosphere. As well as right after sunset, this atmospheric effect can also be seen shortly before sunrise. A very similar effect can also be observed during a total solar eclipse. The telescopes shown in the image are three of the four 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes, housed in ultra-compact mobile enclosures. These ...
potw1330 — Picture of the Week
Messier 100 — Grand Design Splendour
29 July 2013: Spiral galaxies are usually very aesthetically appealing objects, and never more so than when they appear face-on. And this image is a particularly splendid example: it is the grand design spiral galaxy Messier 100, located in the southern part of the constellation of Coma Berenices, and lying about 55 million light-years from Earth. While Messier 100 shows very well defined spiral arms, it also displays the faintest of bar-like structures in the centre, which classifies this as type SAB. Although it is not easily spotted in the image, scientists have been able to confirm the bar’s existence by observing it in other wavelengths. This very detailed image shows the main features expected in a galaxy of this type: huge clouds of hydrogen gas, glowing in red patches when they re-emit the energy absorbed from newly born, massive stars; the uniform brightness of older, yellowish stars near the centre; and black ...
potw1329 — Picture of the Week
The NTT Spinning like a Top
22 July 2013: This dynamic image shows the New Technology Telescope (NTT) located at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. The distinctively shaped enclosure of the telescope appears blurred by movement in the picture, as the telescope rotates to point at its desired target. The photo was taken with a 30-second exposure. One of the first things you notice in this picture is that the telescope building has a peculiar angular shape on the outside, rather than the more common rounded dome design usually seen. Its design features have been much copied, including by ESO’s Very Large Telescope, but they were groundbreaking when the telescope was inaugurated in 1989. The NTT’s revolutionary design targets optimal image quality, for instance, through carefully controlled ventilation, which optimises airflow across the NTT, minimising the blurring caused by air turbulence inside. Just visible in the blur of this image are the large flaps that form a key ...
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