Picture of the Week 2010

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potw1032 — Picture of the Week
Frenzied Star Birth in Haro 11
9 August 2010: Haro 11 appears to shine gently amid clouds of gas and dust, but this placid facade belies the monumental rate of star formation occurring in this “starburst” galaxy. By combining data from ESO’s Very Large Telescope and the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have created a new image of this incredibly bright and distant galaxy. The team of astronomers from Stockholm University, Sweden, and the Geneva Observatory, Switzerland, have identified 200 separate clusters of very young, massive stars. Most of these are less than 10 million years old. Many of the clusters are so bright in infrared light that astronomers suspect that the stars are still emerging from the cloudy cocoons where they were born. The observations have led the astronomers to conclude that Haro 11 is most likely the result of a merger between a galaxy rich in stars and a younger, gas-rich galaxy. Haro 11 is found to ...
potw1031 — Picture of the Week
Exoplanet Hunters at La Silla*
2 August 2010: In the search for distant worlds, few telescopes have had as much success as ESO's 3.6-metre telescope and the Swiss 1.2-metre Leonhard Euler Telescope, both of which are shown in this image. The 3.6-metre telescope is home to HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher), a spectrograph with unrivalled precision, and holder of many records in the field of exoplanet research, including the discovery of the least massive exoplanet, as well as of the smallest ever measured. Together with HARPS, the Leonhard Euler Telescope has allowed astronomers to find that six exoplanets from a larger sample of 27 were orbiting in the opposite direction to the rotation of their host star — providing an unexpected and serious challenge to current theories of planet formation. At 2400 metres above sea level in the southern part of Chile’s Atacama Desert, La Silla was ESO’s first observation site. Along with the 3.6-metre telescope, ...
potw1030 — Picture of the Week
Arp 22 Stretches Out
26 July 2010: NGC 4027, also known as Arp 22, stretches its single extended spiral arm in this face-on image. Located about 75 million light-years away in the constellation of Corvus (the Crow), this barred spiral galaxy is identified as a peculiar galaxy by this extended arm, thought to be the result of a collision with another galaxy millions of years ago — most likely a small galaxy known as NGC 4027A. NGC 4027 is part of the NGC 4038 Group, a group of galaxies that also contains the famous distorted couple known as the Antennae Galaxies (see eso0209 and heic0615). This image is based on data collected with the ESO Faint Object Spectrograph and Camera (EFOSC) attached to the 3.58-metre New Technology Telescope (NTT) at the ESO La Silla Observatory in Chile. The data were collected through three broadband filters (B, V and R) and two narrowband filters (Hα and doubly ionised ...
potw1029 — Picture of the Week
A European ALMA antenna takes a ride on a transporter
19 July 2010: A European Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) antenna takes a ride on Lore, one of the ALMA Transporters, at the 2900-metre altitude Operations Support Facility in the Chilean Andes. This took place on 23 June 2010, and was the first time that European antennas have been lifted with the transporters, a procedure that was fully successful, with both moves completed in a single day. The first two European antennas for ALMA have been moved to two new outdoor foundation pads in order to perform tests of their dish surface accuracy. In this process, known as holography, the antennas observe the signals from a special transmitter located on a nearby tower. In order to allow parallel assembly of several antennas, two new foundations have recently been built. As the newly built foundations lie between the original positions of the two antennas and the holography tower, the antennas were moved to the ...
potw1028 — Picture of the Week
Partial Solar Eclipse over the VLT
12 July 2010: Yesterday 11 July 2010, between 20:15 and 22:51 CEST, the path of a total solar eclipse streaked across the Pacific Ocean touching several small islands including Tuamotu in French Polynesia, Mangaia in the Cook Islands and Chile's Easter Island. The total eclipse brushed the southern mainland of Chile, and was seen as a partial eclipse in the rest of the country. At ESO's Paranal Observatory ESO Photo Ambassador Yuri Beletsky snapped this photo near the mid-point of the eclipse. On the mainland of Chile, outside the zone of complete darkness, the partial eclipse was visible from ESO's Paranal Observatory. With the naked eye, eclipses are difficult — and dangerous — to watch until they reach totality, as the Sun is so bright. But a filter reduces the glare and here reveals the advancing disk of the Moon as it moves across the face of the Sun. In this photograph, the ...
potw1027 — Picture of the Week
Building the E-ELT
5 July 2010: This series of artist’s impressions shows some of the main phases in the early stages of construction of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), assuming the final go-ahead is given at the end of 2010. The E-ELT is to be built on Cerro Armazones, a 3060-metre high mountain near ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile, and is planned to be operational early in the next decade. With a primary mirror 39 metres across, far larger than any visible light telescope currently in operation, the E-ELT will be “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”. This will give it an unparalleled power to see faint and distant objects in the sky. The E-ELT will tackle the biggest scientific challenges of our time, and aim for a number of notable firsts, including tracking down Earth-like planets around other stars in the habitable zones where life could exist — one of the Holy Grails ...
potw1026 — Picture of the Week
The Oddest Member of the Leo Triplet
28 June 2010: NGC 3628 is a spiral galaxy and a member of a small, but conspicuous group of galaxies located about 35 million light-years away, toward the constellation of Leo (the Lion). The other distinguished members of this family, known collectively as the Leo Triplet, are two well-known prominent spiral galaxies, Messier 65 and Messier 66 (not seen on the image), which were both discovered in 1780 by famous French comet hunter Charles Messier. NGC 3628 is the faintest of the trio and escaped Messier’s observations with his rather small telescope. It was discovered and catalogued by William Herschel only four years later. NGC 3628 hides its spiral structure because it is seen perfectly edge-on, exactly as we observe the Milky Way on a clear night. Its most distinctive feature is a dark band of dust that lies across the plane of the disc and which is visibly distorted outwards, as a ...
potw1025 — Picture of the Week
Celestial Tic-Tac-Toe: Mercury, Venus and the Moon Align
21 June 2010: One morning, in March 2008, a rare and beautiful sight greeted Yuri Beletsky, astronomer at ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) observatory at Paranal in northern Chile. In the sky above the observing deck, the planets Mercury and Venus were in alignment above the Moon, in a celestial event known as a conjunction. Mercury, the smallest of the planets and shining highest in the sky in this image, orbits closest to the Sun of all the eight planets in our Solar System. Venus comes next, followed by Earth and its Moon. So this image captures the full stock of major astronomical bodies that pass between Earth and its host star. To the bottom left, seen as an impressive silhouette, and accompanying this cosmic chance encounter, is one of the four 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes (ATs) deployed at Paranal. These mobile telescopes are used for interferometry, an astronomical technique that essentially combines the ...
potw1024 — Picture of the Week
A Quintuplet of ALMA Antennas — And Then There Were Five
14 June 2010: On the Chajnantor plateau, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is growing. On 31 May 2010, the number of ALMA’s state-of-the-art antennas on the 5000-metre-altitude plateau in the Chilean Andes increased to five. This photograph shows the five 12-metre diameter antennas at the Array Operations Site, clustered on the closely spaced foundation pads of what will be ALMA’s “Atacama Compact Array”. When complete, ALMA will have fifty-four 12-metre and twelve 7-metre diameter antennas, operating together as an interferometer: the signals from the individual antennas are combined in a specialised supercomputer — the ALMA correlator — so that the array of antennas acts as a single, giant telescope. The team of astronomers and engineers have now achieved a successful test linking all of these first five antennas together as an interferometer. This result follows the successful first measurements with a pair of antennas in October 2009 (see ESO Announcement) and the ...
potw1023 — Picture of the Week
Dramatic Moonset — Amazing Sight on Cerro Paranal, Home of ESO’s Very Large Telescope*
7 June 2010: As the full Moon sets, the Sun is about to rise on the opposite horizon. The Very Large Telescope (VLT) has already closed its eyes after a long night of observations, and telescope operators and astronomers sleep while technicians, engineers and day astronomers wake up for a new day of work. Operations never stop at the most productive astronomical ground-based observatory in the world. ESO staff member Gordon Gillet welcomed the new day by capturing this stunning image from 14 km away, on the road to the nearby Cerro Armazones, the peak recently chosen by the ESO Council as the preferred location for the planned 40-metre-class European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). Contrary to what one may think, this picture is no montage. The Moon appears large because it is seen close to the horizon and our perception is deceived by the proximity of references on the ground. In order to ...
potw1022 — Picture of the Week
The Blinking Galaxy
31 May 2010: NGC 6118, a grand-design spiral galaxy, shines bright in this image, displaying its central bar and tight spiral arms from its home in the constellation of Serpens (The Snake). The galaxy is sometimes known to amateur astronomers as the “Blinking Galaxy” because this relatively faint, fuzzy object would appear to flick into existence when viewed through their telescopes in a certain orientation, and then suddenly disappear again as the eye position shifted. The brilliant blue star-forming regions of the galaxy, where hot young stars are born, are beautifully illuminated, even from over 80 million light-years away. In 2004, regular observers of this galaxy saw a “new star” appear near the edge of the galaxy (above the centre of the image). Far from being a new star, this object, supernova 2004dk, is in fact the final, powerful burst of light emitted by the explosion of a star. Though shy to lesser ...
potw1021 — Picture of the Week
Building Connections with EVALSO
24 May 2010: Alongside the B-710 road, between the Paranal airstrip and the turn-off to Cerro Armazones in the Chilean Atacama Desert, a crew is hard at work laying a fibre data cable. The cable will connect the observatories at Paranal (ESO) and Armazones (OCA) with the main scientific data backbone in South America, bridging the gap between these remote outposts and the scientific community thirsty for their data. This new cable, laid down by ESO, is part of the EVALSO (Enabling Virtual Access to Latin-American Southern Observatories) project that aims to create an entire high-speed data infrastructure between these two astronomical sites in Chile and the rest of the scientific and academic community. Once completed, the high-speed interconnectivity will be from the Santiago area,  via the main Chilean backbone along the Panamerican Highway, to the ESO site on Cerro Paranal, which houses the Very Large Telescope (VLT) and to Cerro Armazones, currently ...
potw1020 — Picture of the Week
Great progress for the ALMA Santiago Central Office building
17 May 2010: The Santiago Central Office building, the soon-to-be headquarters of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) project in the Vitacura district of the Chilean capital. The new building is rapidly approaching completion and is adjacent to ESO’s Santiago offices. It was built by ESO as part of its responsibilities as the European ALMA partner. The ALMA Santiago Central Office building covers nearly 7000 square metres, stands two storeys tall, and includes an underground parking area for 130 cars. ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence, is a revolutionary astronomical telescope, comprising an array of 66 giant 12-metre and 7-metre diameter antennas observing at millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths. The facility is currently under construction on the 5000-metre high Chajnantor plateau in the Chilean Andes. ALMA is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile.
potw1019 — Picture of the Week
Snow Visits the ALMA Site*
10 May 2010: High in the Chilean Andes, at 5000 metres above sea level, one of the giant Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) antenna transporters contemplates an unexpected sight — a delicate dusting of snow whitens the breathtaking landscape of the Chajnantor plateau, home of the ALMA project. Snow is a very rare event at this extremely arid site and is a consequence of the Altiplanic winter, caused when the jet stream reverses and comes from the chill east. Chajnantor is one of the driest sites in the world, making it excellent for astronomical observations. The hill in the background is Toco, a 5600-metre mountain toward the north. This image was taken on 30 April 2010. The ALMA transporters, two giant custom-built vehicles, can move the antennas across the Chajnantor plateau, allowing different configurations of the array. Since late 2009, there have been three antennas at 5000 metres. Eventually ALMA will have a ...
potw1018 — Picture of the Week
Paranal’s Telescopes in the Distance
3 May 2010: This picture looks like a scene from a science fiction movie, with strange, distant structures rising over a desolate alien valley. In fact, this is the barren Atacama Desert in northern Chile, and the oddly shaped buildings silhouetted against the sky are part of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) observatory, the world’s most advanced ground-based observatory. The four 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes stand out to the right on the summit of Mount Paranal. To the left looms the new 4.1-metre Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA), the largest survey telescope in operation. The extremely arid conditions and high altitude of the Paranal region make it an optimum site to locate an astronomical observatory. The otherworldliness and remoteness of the area add to the adventure of conducting cutting-edge astronomy.
potw1017a — Picture of the Week
Starbursting Sculptor Galaxy
26 April 2010: NGC 253, also known as the Sculptor Galaxy, is the brightest of the Sculptor Group of galaxies, found in the constellation of the same name, and lying approximately 13 million light-years from Earth. The Sculptor Galaxy is known as a starburst galaxy for its current high rate of star formation, one result of which is its superwind, a stream energetic material spewing out from the centre of the galaxy out into space. The purple light comes from that frenzy of star formation, which originally began 30 million years ago, while the yellowish colour is created by dust lit up by young, massive stars. This image combines observations performed through three different filters (B, V, R) with the 1.5-metre Danish telescope at the ESO La Silla Observatory in Chile.
potw1016 — Picture of the Week
The Glow of the Lagoon Nebula
19 April 2010: Gas and dust condense, beginning the process of creating new stars in this image of Messier 8, also known as the Lagoon Nebula. Located four to five thousand light-years away, in the constellation of Sagittarius (the Archer), the nebula is a giant interstellar cloud, one hundred light-years across. It boasts many large, hot stars, whose ultraviolet radiation sculpts the gas and dust into unusual shapes. Two of these giant stars illuminate the brightest part of the nebula, known as the Hourglass Nebula, a spiralling, funnel-like shape near its centre. Messier 8 is one of the few star-forming nebulae visible to the unaided eye, and was discovered as long ago as 1747, although the full range of colours wasn’t visible until the advent of more powerful telescopes. The Lagoon Nebula derives its name from the wide lagoon-shaped dark lane located in the middle of the nebula that divides it into two ...
potw1015 — Picture of the Week
Stellar Titans of Pismis 24
12 April 2010: Home to some of the largest stars ever discovered, the open stellar cluster Pismis 24 blazes from the core of NGC 6357, a nebula in the constellation of Scorpius (the Scorpion). Several stars in the clusters weigh in at over 100 times the mass of the Sun, making them real monster stars. The strange shapes taken by the clouds are a result of the huge amount of blazing radiation emitted by these massive, hot stars. The gas and dust of the nebula hide huge baby stars in the nebula from telescopes observing in visible light, as well as adding to the hazy appearance of the image. This image combines observations performed through three different filters in visible light (B, V, R) with the 1.5-metre Danish telescope at the ESO La Silla Observatory in Chile.
potw1014 — Picture of the Week
Moonlit panorama at La Silla
5 April 2010: This panoramic image shows the La Silla observatory glistening under the cool glow of moonlight. Because the image wraps around almost a full 360 degrees, the angle of the lighting becomes downright surreal ; notice how the photographer’s shadow seems to stretch towards the Moon, and how the shiny ESO 3.6-metre telescope in the foreground appears to reflect light from a source located opposite the Moon. Fortunately, such optical trickery does not trouble La Silla’s fleet of telescopes, which reside at an altitude of 2,400 metres in the arid Chilean Atacama Desert. In fact, La Silla’s MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope has snapped some of astronomy’s iconic images with the Wide Field Imager (WFI) camera. Also at this observatory, the 3.58-metre New Technology Telescope (NTT) broke new ground for telescope engineering and design and was the first in the world to have a computer-controlled main mirror (active optics), a technology developed at ...
potw1013 — Picture of the Week
Assembly of a European ALMA Antenna
29 March 2010: A European antenna for ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, is placed on its base. The 12-metre diameter reflecting dish is attached to the base, with the whole structure weighing over 100 tonnes. When complete, the reflecting surface of the dish will be accurate to less than the thickness of a sheet of paper, and the antenna will be able to point precisely enough to pick out a golf ball at a distance of 15 kilometres. This is the second European antenna to be assembled at the 2,900-metre altitude Operations Support Facility in Chile. The antennas will ultimately be transported to the Chajnantor plateau, 5000 metres above sea level in the Chilean Andes. ALMA, which will comprise 66 giant 12-metre and 7-metre diameter antennas observing the Universe at millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ESO ...
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