Picture of the Week 2011

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potw1132 — Picture of the Week
Dark Sky and White Desert — Snow pays a rare visit to ESO’s Paranal Observatory
8 August 2011: The night sky above Cerro Paranal, the home of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), is dark and dotted with the bright stars of the Milky Way, and more distant galaxies. But it is very rare to see the ground contrasting with the sky as markedly as in this photograph, which shows a gentle layer of white snow dotted with darker spots of the desert terrain beneath. The picture was taken last week, shortly before sunrise, by ESO Photo Ambassador Yuri Beletsky, who works as an astronomer at the La Silla Paranal Observatory. He captured not only the beautiful snowy landscape of the Atacama and the mountaintop domes of the VLT, but also an incredible night sky. To the left of the VLT is a satellite trail, and to the right is the trail of a meteor.Cerro Paranal is a 2600-metre-high mountain located in the Chilean Atacama Desert. It is a ...
potw1131 — Picture of the Week
Smoke Signals in Space
1 August 2011: The hazy and aptly named Fine Ring Nebula, shown here, is an unusual planetary nebula. Planetary nebulae form when some dying stars, having expanded into a red giant phase, expel a shell of gas as they evolve into white dwarfs. Most planetary nebulae are either spherical or elliptical in shape, or bipolar (featuring two symmetric lobes of material). But the Fine Ring Nebula — captured here by the ESO Faint Object Spectrograph and Camera mounted on the New Technology Telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile — looks like an almost perfect circular ring. Astronomers believe that some of these more unusually shaped planetary nebulae are formed when the progenitor star is actually a binary system. The interaction between the primary star and its orbiting companion shapes the ejected material. The stellar object at the centre of the Fine Ring Nebula is indeed thought to be a binary system, ...
potw1130 — Picture of the Week
Very Large Telescope Ready for Action
25 July 2011: This unusual 360-degree panoramic projection reveals the observing site from a fresh perspective. In the centre of the image, staff at Paranal have gathered to watch the sunset. On the right, the enclosures of the VLT’s Unit Telescopes can be seen: vast machines, each with a primary mirror 8.2 metres across and weighing 23 tonnes. Also visible are several of the smaller 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes, which complement the Unit Telescopes. On the left of the picture is the control building, from where the telescopes are operated remotely during observations. No one remains inside the telescope domes after they are opened. Since first light in 1998 the Very Large Telescope has been used by ESO astronomers to study the Universe, including some of the most exotic phenomena known, such as exoplanets, supermassive black holes, and gamma-ray bursts. An amazing interactive virtual tour of Paranal is available here.
potw1129 — Picture of the Week
Hidden Treasure on Our Doorstep
18 July 2011: The MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at La Silla in Chile is a powerful instrument that can capture distant celestial objects, but it has been used here to image a heavenly body that is much closer to home: the Moon. The data used for this image were selected by Andy Strappazzon from Belgium, who participated in ESO’s Hidden Treasures 2010 astrophotography competition. Andy’s composition of the Moon was the fourth highest ranked entry in the competition. This image of the crescent Moon shows sunlight skimming across the heavily pocked surface, filling its craters with shadows. This is a fairly flat region of the Moon, but elsewhere, high mountains can be found, with some peaks reaching about 5000 metres. When backlit by the Sun, these mountains cast long shadows on the lunar surface. In the 1600s, Galileo Galilei used these long shadows to determine the height of the peaks. At the Moon’s poles ...
potw1128 — Picture of the Week
A Galactic Embrace
11 July 2011: Two galaxies, about 50 million light-years away, are locked in a galactic embrace — literally. The Seyfert galaxy NGC 1097, in the constellation of Fornax (The Furnace), is seen in this image taken with the VIMOS instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). A comparatively tiny elliptical companion galaxy, NGC 1097A, is also visible in the top left. There is evidence that NGC 1097 and NGC 1097A have been interacting in the recent past. Although NGC 1097 seems to be wrapping its companion in its spiral arms, this is no gentle motherly giant. The larger galaxy also has four faint jets — too extended and faint to be seen in this image — that emerge from its centre, forming an X-shaped pattern, and which are the longest visible-wavelength jets of any known galaxy. The jets are thought to be the remnants of a dwarf galaxy that was disrupted and cannibalised ...
potw1127 — Picture of the Week
A VLT Auxiliary Telescope and Cerro Armazones
4 July 2011: ESO Photo Ambassador Gianluca Lombardi was in the perfect position to capture a crisp dusk view of Auxiliary Telescope (AT) 2, on Cerro Paranal. Once the Sun sets, the cloudless skies above the Chilean desert will be filled with stars, and AT2 will begin its work. In the background on the left is Cerro Armazones, with a road zigzagging to its peak, home of the future European Extremely Large Telescope. Site-testing equipment can be seen on the peak. The lower peak to the right of Cerro Armazones is the site of smaller telescopes operated by the Instituto de Astronomía of the Universidad Católica del Norte. There are four ATs on Cerro Paranal, which form part of the Very Large Telescope (VLT). They are used for a special technique called interferometry, which allows multiple ATs, or the even larger Unit Telescopes, to combine their power and see details up to 25 ...
potw1126 — Picture of the Week
Hiding in Plain Sight — the elusive Carina Dwarf Galaxy
27 June 2011: It’s one of the closest galaxies to Earth, but the Carina Dwarf Galaxy is so dim and diffuse that astronomers only discovered it in the 1970s. A companion galaxy of the Milky Way, this ball of stars shares features with both globular star clusters and much larger galaxies. Astronomers believe that dwarf spheroidal galaxies like the Carina Dwarf are very common in the Universe, but they are extremely difficult to observe. Their faintness and low star density mean that it is easy to simply see right through them. In this image, the Carina Dwarf appears as many faint stars scattered across most of the central part of the picture. It is hard to tell apart stars from the dwarf galaxy, foreground stars within the Milky Way and even faraway galaxies that poke through the gaps: the Carina Dwarf is a master of cosmic camouflage. The Carina Dwarf’s stars show an ...
potw1125 — Picture of the Week
A Blood Moon over ESO’s Headquarters
20 June 2011: After nightfall on 15 June 2011 in Garching, near Munich, Germany, a blood-red Moon rose above the horizon. This striking phenomenon was caused by a total lunar eclipse in progress at moonrise, and it was captured in the skies over the European Southern Observatory’s Headquarters. A lunar eclipse takes place only when the Moon, Earth and Sun are exactly aligned. When the Moon passes through the shadow cast by the Earth, our planet blocks the path of direct sunlight to the lunar surface and a total eclipse occurs. This event can only happen on the night of a full Moon. Unlike the better known solar eclipses, the Moon doesn’t completely disappear from sight during a total lunar eclipse. Instead it appears painted blood red, giving it the ominous nickname of “blood Moon”. The reddish colour is caused by scattered sunlight that has passed through the Earth’s atmosphere — the same ...
potw1124 — Picture of the Week
By the Light of the Moon
13 June 2011: ESO Photo Ambassador Gianluca Lombardi used a remote shutter release and a 30-second exposure to take this night-time shot of himself sitting on a railing on the observing platform of the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT). The VLT is on Cerro Paranal, at an altitude of 2600 metres in Chile’s Atacama Desert, one of the driest regions on Earth. The viewing conditions at Paranal are so superb that on a clear moonless night it is possible to see shadows cast by the light of the Milky Way alone.   In this photograph, however, the Moon is up, appearing as a bright light due to the long exposure. It is about to dip behind the VLT’s Unit Telescope 4 (UT4), named Yepun, and the shadows thrown by the moonlight are lengthening across the 200-metre width of the observing platform. The other three UTs stand in the background. From left to right they ...
potw1123 — Picture of the Week
A Slice of the Sky
6 June 2011: This spectacular approximately 230-degree panoramic photograph of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), taken by ESO Photo Ambassador Gerhard Hüdepohl, gives us an inspiring view of a slice of the sky, encompassing both our nearest celestial neighbour and star clusters hundreds of light-years away. The VLT’s four large Unit Telescopes dominate the foreground. With gigantic mirrors 8.2 metres across, they allow us to peer into space and see things four billion times fainter than we can see with our eyes alone. Also visible are the round enclosures of the four 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes, one to the left of the Unit Telescopes and three to the right. This observatory has an excellent location, on Cerro Paranal in the Chilean Atacama Desert. It is so high, at 2600 metres altitude, that what looks like the rippling ocean to the west, on the left of the image, is in fact the cloud layer below ...
potw1122 — Picture of the Week
European Antennas Under Construction
30 May 2011: This is a helicopter view of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) Operations Support Facility (OSF) site. In the foreground is the AEM Consortium’s [1] facility where the European antennas are assembled and tested. Seven of the 25 European antennas can be seen, pointing towards the sky. More parts, including a receiver cabin and antenna base, await the next assembly. Each antenna has a dish 12 metres in diameter, and weighs about 95 tonnes. Once an antenna is assembled and ready, it is handed over to the ALMA project and moved to the nearby OSF technical area, which is the area in the background, where more antennas can be seen. Here, it is integrated into the rest of the observatory’s systems. Finally, after further tests by the ALMA team, it is moved from the 2900 metres high OSF to its workplace, the Array Operation Site (AOS), located at an altitude ...
potw1121 — Picture of the Week
First 7-metre ALMA Antenna Handed Over to Observatory
23 May 2011: The first of twelve 7-metre antennas has been handed over to the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) observatory in Chile. ALMA will have an array of fifty antennas with 12-metre diameter dishes, as well as a system known as the Atacama Compact Array (ACA), provided by Japan, of which this new 7-metre antenna is part. The ACA will have a total of twelve 7-metre dishes and four 12-metre dishes, and will be particularly important for ALMA’s observations of the broader structure in extended astronomical objects such as giant clouds of molecular gas.The 7-metre antenna is seen here at the ALMA Operations Support Facility (OSF), at an altitude of 2900 metres in the foothills of the Chilean Andes. These antennas are being provided by Japan through a contract with MELCO (Mitsubishi Electric Corporation).The antennas are manufactured in Japan, then disassembled and shipped to Chile. They are reassembled and tested at the ...
potw1120 — Picture of the Week
The Czech President’s Galaxy
16 May 2011: This new image of the spiral galaxy NGC 3244 was taken with the help of the President of the Czech Republic, Václav Klaus, during his visit to ESO’s Paranal Observatory [1], on the night of 6 April 2011. The Czech Republic joined ESO in 2007, and this was the first visit of the country’s President to an ESO site. This galaxy has attracted considerable interest from astronomers over the past nine months, thanks to the violent death of one of its stars, which was discovered on 27 June 2010. This supernova explosion, now known as Supernova 2010ev (SN 2010ev), is still visible as the — now faint — blue dot nestled within one of the thick spiral arms just to the left of the galaxy’s nucleus. To the right of  the galaxy, an unremarkable foreground star in our own Milky Way, TYC 7713-527-1, shines brightly enough to catch our attention. Although ...
potw1119 — Picture of the Week
Eclipsed Moon, Striking Night Sky
9 May 2011: A total eclipse of the Moon is an impressive spectacle. But it also provides another viewing opportunity: a dark, moonlight-free starry sky. At Cerro Paranal in the Chilean Atacama Desert, one of the most remote places in the world, the distance from sources of light pollution makes the night sky all the more remarkable during a total lunar eclipse.   This panorama photo, taken by ESO Photo Ambassador Yuri Beletsky, shows the view of the starry sky from the site of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Cerro Paranal during the total lunar eclipse of 21 December 2010. The reddish disc of the Moon is seen on the right of the image, while the Milky Way arches across the heavens in all its beauty. Another faint glow of light is also visible, surrounding the brilliant planet Venus in the bottom left corner of the picture. This phenomenon, known as zodiacal ...
potw1118 — Picture of the Week
Planetary Conjunction over Paranal
2 May 2011: ESO Photo Ambassador Gerhard Hüdepohl has captured yet another rare sight. Yesterday, in the morning of 1 May 2011, about an hour before sunrise, five of our Solar System’s eight planets and the Moon could be seen from Paranal. The four planets in the sky were Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter, and they were joined by the crescent Moon to create this wonderful photo opportunity of a planetary conjunction — two or more celestial bodies seen near each other in the sky, usually from the Earth. In this photo, the bright crescent of the Moon is illuminated by the Sun (which is just below the horizon), while the darker part receives only light reflected from the surface of the Earth. Venus is the highest and brightest planet, with Mercury below and to the right. Jupiter is directly below Venus, but much closer to the horizon. Mars can be seen just ...
potw1117 — Picture of the Week
Rare Moon Green Flash Captured
25 April 2011: On Cerro Paranal, the 2600-metre-high mountain in Chile’s Atacama Desert that is home to ESO’s Very Large Telescope, the atmospheric conditions are so exceptional that fleeting events such as the green flash of the setting Sun are seen relatively frequently. Now, however, ESO Photo Ambassador Gerhard Hüdepohl has captured an even rarer sight: a green flash from the Moon, instead of the Sun. The photographs are very probably the best ever taken of the Moon’s green flash. Gerhard was surprised and delighted to catch the stunning green flash in this series of photographs of the setting full Moon crossing the horizon, taken on a clear early morning from the Paranal Residencia. The Earth’s atmosphere bends, or refracts, light — rather like a giant prism. The effect is greater in the lower denser layers of the atmosphere, so rays of light from the Sun or Moon are curved slightly downwards. Shorter ...
potw1116 — Picture of the Week
On Top of the World
18 April 2011: Some places on Earth can seem like alien environments, as this stunning 360 degree panorama shows. It is not the strange surface of an exoplanet, but rather the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes. This unearthly location is home to ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array. Chajnantor was chosen because the rarefied atmosphere above this very high site is so dry that, unlike at most other places on Earth, it is largely transparent to the wavelengths of light that ALMA is designed to detect. At the centre of the image, the darker, rounded shape of the peak of Cerro Chajnantor, 5600 metres high, can be spotted, followed slightly to the left in the far distance by the conical shape of the 5930-metre Licancabur volcano. The flat area in front, at an altitude of 5000 metres, is the Chajnantor Plateau, the ALMA Array Operations Site. Here the 66 ALMA antennas can be ...
potw1115 — Picture of the Week
ESO Headquarters at Sunset*
11 April 2011: This panorama photograph shows the European Southern Observatory’s Headquarters in Garching, near Munich, Germany. The image shows the view from the roof of the main building just after sunset. This is the scientific, technical and administrative centre for ESO’s operations, and the base from which many astronomers conduct their research. The scientists, technicians and administrators who work here come from many different backgrounds, but all have one thing in common: a passion for astronomy. ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive astronomical observatory. ESO operates telescopes at three observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. In addition, Cerro Armazones, near Paranal has been selected as the site for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). ESO provides state-of-the-art research facilities to astronomers and is supported by Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, ...
potw1114 — Picture of the Week
Bridging the Abyss
4 April 2011: Deep in the Chilean Atacama Desert, far from sources of light pollution and other people-related disturbances, there is a tranquil sky like few others on Earth. This is the site for the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, a scientific machine at the cutting-edge of technology. In this panoramic photograph, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds — satellite galaxies of our own — glow brightly on the left, while the VLT’s Unit Telescope 1 stands vigil on the right. Appearing to bridge the gap between them is the Milky Way, the plane of our own galaxy. The seemingly countless stars give a sense of the true scale of the cosmos. Every night ESO astronomers rise to the challenge of studying this vista to make sense of the Universe. This awe-inspiring image was taken by ESO Photo Ambassador Yuri Beletsky. Born in Belarus, Yuri now lives in Chile where he works ...
potw1113 — Picture of the Week
ALMA: Greater than the Sum of its Parts
28 March 2011: When completed, the antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) will be spread across the Chajnantor plateau in the Chilean Andes over distances of up to 16 kilometres, but they will work in unison, to form what is known as an interferometer. In doing so, ALMA will be more powerful than the sum of its parts, acting like a single giant telescope as large as the whole collection of antennas. The 66 ALMA antennas are not all the same. A main array of fifty antennas with 12-metre dishes will be complemented by the Atacama Compact Array (ACA) of twelve smaller 7-metre dishes and four additional 12-metre dishes. The ACA dishes are being constructed by Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (MELCO). Three of them are shown in this photograph of the MELCO Site Erection Facility at the ALMA Operations Support Facility (OSF) site. The OSF is at an altitude of 2900 metres, ...
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