eso0501 — Organisation Release
ESO PR Highlights in 2004
12 January 2005
Last year proved again a wonderful one for astronomy in general and for ESO in particular. Certainly the most important astronomical event for a large public was the unique Transit of Venus: on June 8, 2004, Venus - the Earth's sister planet - passed in front of the Sun. This rare event - the last one occurred in 1882 - attracted the attention of millions of people all over the world.
ESO in cooperation with several other institutes and with support from the European Commission organised through the whole year the Venus Transit 2004 (VT-2004) public education programme that successfully exposed the broad public to a number of fundamental issues at the crucial interface between society and basic science. The web site experienced a record 55 million webhits during a period of 8 hours around the transit. The programme also re-enacted the historical determination of the distance to the Sun (the "Astronomical Unit") by collecting 4550 timings of the four contacts made by more than 1500 participating group of observers and combining them in a calculation of the AU. This resulted in an astonishing accurate value of the Astronomical Unit. More details are available at the VT-2004 website, whose wealth of information will certainly make it a useful tool until the next transit in 2012!
For ESO also, 2004 proved a very special year. Finland officially joined as eleventh member state and in December, the Chilean President, Ricardo Lagos, visited the Paranal Observatory.
Last year was also the Fifth anniversary of the Very Large Telescope, ESO's flagship facility, as on April 1, 1999 the first 8.2-m VLT Unit Telescope, Antu (UT1), was "handed over" to the astronomers. On this occasion, ESO released several products, including a selection of the best astronomical images taken with the VLT, the VLT Top 20.
But there is no doubt that the numerous high quality images published last year are all contenders to top the charts of best astronomical pictures.
The year 2004 also saw many new interesting scientific results on the basis of data from ESO telescopes, including several results from the unmatched interferometer mode of the VLT, the VLTI, some of which were highlighted in ESO Press Releases. Certainly worth noting is the possible first ever bona-fide image of an exoplanet and the discovery of the lightest known exoplanet .
At the beginning of the year, Paranal welcomed the first Auxiliary Telescope, while on the instrument side as well, 2004 was a good year: we saw the arrival of SINFONI on the VLT, of AMBER on the VLTI, and the installation at the NACO Adaptive Optics instrument of the " Simultaneous Differential Imager (SDI)" to detect exoplanets. And the first prototype of the Astrophysical Virtual Observatory was able to provide unprecedented results on the existence of Type-2 quasars by discovering an entire population of obscured, powerful supermassive black holes.
Many of these developments are described in ESO's Press Releases, most with Press Photos, cf. the 2004 PR Index. Some of last year's ESO PR highlights may be accessed directly via the clickable image above.