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, it also hosts the New Technology Telescope (NTT) and the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope as well as several national and smaller telescopes.
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 oxygen).
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 new locations.
The European ALMA antennas are provided by ESO, through a contract with the AEM Consortium (Thales Alenia Space, European Industrial Engineering, and MT-Aerospace). The ALMA antenna transporters are also provided by ESO, and manufactured by the company Scheuerle Fahrzeugfabrik GmbH. ALMA, an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile.
- For more information about ALMA at ESO: http://www.eso.org/public/teles-instr/alma/
- The Joint ALMA Observatory website: http://www.almaobservatory.org/
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 filter is held by hand between the camera lens and the Sun, and lets us see the definite bite-mark on the left of the Sun. Around it is the dramatic location of Paranal's Very Large Telescope.
In addition to the ESO staff watching the partial eclipse over Paranal, a small group of enthusiastic science photographers from ESO, including members of the ESO education and Public Outreach Department, spent their vacation at Easter Island to witness the total eclipse. Among them was ESO Photo Ambassador Stéphane Guisard.
- More about the 11 July 2011 Eclipse: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_eclipse_of_July_11,_2010
- Stéphane Guisard's images from the eclipse will be published at: http://www.astrosurf.com/sguisard/
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 of modern observational astronomy. It will also perform “stellar archaeology” in nearby galaxies, as well as make fundamental contributions to cosmology by measuring the properties of the first stars and galaxies and probing the nature of dark matter and dark energy. On top of this astronomers are also planning for the unexpected — new and unforeseeable questions will surely arise from the new discoveries made with the E-ELT. The E-ELT may, eventually, revolutionise our perception of the Universe, much as Galileo’s telescope did, 400 years ago.
Erecting the E-ELT’s housing is a major engineering feat. Because of the size of the equipment inside, the moveable dome of the building has to be over 80 m high — about the height of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
The design for the E-ELT shown here was published in 2010 and is preliminary.
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 consequence of the gravitational interaction between NGC 3628 and its bullying companions. This boxy or “peanut-shaped” bulge, seen as a faint X-shape, is formed mainly of young stars and gas and dust, which create the bulge away from the plane of the rest of the galaxy through their powerful motions. Because of its appearance, NGC 3628 was catalogued as Arp 317 in the Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies, published in 1966, which aimed to characterise a large sample of odd objects that fell outside the standard Hubble classification, to aid understanding of how galaxies evolve.
The depth of the image reveals a myriad of galaxies of different shapes and colours, some of which lie much further away than NGC 3628. Particularly noticeable is the fuzzy blob just in the centre of the image, which is a diffuse satellite galaxy. A number of globular clusters can be seen as fuzzy reddish spots in the halo of the galaxy. Also visible as bright spots near the lower edge of the image (the two blue star-like objects below the satellite galaxy) are two quasars, the central engines of distant and very energetic galaxies, billions of light-years away.
This image has been taken with the FORS2 instrument, attached to one of the ESO Very Large Telescope’s Unit Telescopes. It is a combination of exposures taken through different filters (B, V and R), for a total exposure time of just below one hour. The field of view is about 7 arcminutes across, which is why this large galaxy does not fit into the image.
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 observing power of all the telescopes involved into one giant telescope, allowing astronomers to probe the mysteries of the Universe in even greater detail.
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 linkup of three antennas in November (see ESO Press Release eso1001). These milestones have already demonstrated the excellent performance of the instruments, but the addition of yet more antennas represents a further step in ALMA’s growth, and has allowed the team to make some further tests of the correlator that were not possible with fewer antennas.
ALMA will probe the sky in millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths of light. This light comes from vast cold clouds in interstellar space, at temperatures only a few tens of degrees above absolute zero, and from some of the earliest and most distant galaxies in the Universe.
The team are now carrying out additional tests on the antennas, and over the course of the coming months more antennas will arrive on the high site. ALMA will start early scientific observations using a partial array of antennas around 2011, with construction to be completed around 2012.
ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ESO is the European partner in ALMA.
More info: ESO ALMA web pages
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 get this spectacular close view, a 500-mm lens was necessary. The very long focal length reduces the depth of field making the objects in focus appear as if they were at the same distance. This effect, combined with the extraordinary quality of this picture, gives the impression that the Moon lies on the VLT platform, just behind the telescopes, even though it is in fact about 30 000 times further away.
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 telescopes, the galaxy cannot hide from ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Cerro Paranal, Chile. The image was obtained using the VIsible MultiObject Spectrograph (VIMOS) at the VLT.
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 housing OCA and the baseline site for the planned 40-metre-class European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).
EVALSO will make use of the infrastructure of REUNA (the Chilean academic network) and CLARA/ALICE (the Latin American academic networks interconnection) and will assume the transit of the data through the European federal research network infrastructure (DANTE/GEANT) and the European national research and education networks. A strong relationship with Latin American partners and the academic world is planned.
EVALSO is funded under the European Commission FP7 and is a partnership between Universita’ degli Studi di Trieste (I), ESO, Ruhr-Universitaet Bochum (D), Consortium GARR (Gestione Ampliamento Rete Ricerca) (I), Universiteit Leiden (NL), Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (I), Queen Mary and Westfield College University of London (UK), Cooperacion LatinoAmericana de Redes Avanzasas (CLARA) (U), and Red Universita Nacional (REUNA)(CL), .
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.
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 total of 66 antennas when complete, around 2012, and early scientific observations are expected around 2011.
This image is available as a mounted image in the ESOshop.
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.
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.
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 glowing sections.
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.
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.
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 ESO and now applied to most of the world's current large telescopes. A spectrograph called HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher), mounted on the ESO 3.6-metre telescope, stands as the world’s foremost exoplanet hunter. La Silla, ESO’s first observatory, remains at the cutting-edge of astronomical discovery.
A virtual tour is available here
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 has contracted with the AEM (Alcatel Alenia Space France, Alcatel Alenia Space Italy, European Industrial Engineering S.r.L., MT Aerospace) Consortium for the supply of 25 of the 12-metre diameter ALMA antennas.
NGC 5189 is a planetary nebula with an oriental twist. Similar in appearance to a Chinese dragon, these red and green cosmic fireworks are the last swansong of a dying star.
At the end of its life, a star with a mass less than eight times that of the Sun will blow its outer layers away, giving rise to a planetary nebula. Some of these stellar puffballs are almost round, resembling huge soap bubbles or giant planets (hence the name), but others, such as NGC 5189 are more intricate.
In particular, this planetary nebula exhibits a curious “S”-shaped profile, with a central bar that is most likely the projection of an inner ring of gas discharged by the star, seen edge on. The details of the physical processes producing such a complex symmetry from a simple, spherical star are still the object of astronomical controversy. One possibility is that the star has a very close (but unseen) companion. Over time the orbits drift due to precession and this could result in the complex curves on the opposite sides of the star visible in this image.
This image has been taken with the New Technology Telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, using the now decommissioned EMMI instrument. It is a combination of exposures taken through different narrowband filters, each designed to catch only the light coming from the glow of a given chemical element, namely hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen.
Solargraphy, the art of using a single long-term exposure with a pinhole camera to photograph the movement of the Sun over the course of many weeks, helps show just why Cerro Paranal in northern Chile makes the perfect home for ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). The pinhole camera, made from a small film canister and a piece of photographic paper, was placed on the roof of the VLT control building by Gerd Hüdepohl from 15 October to 26 December 2009, covering spring in the southern hemisphere. The white streaks across the top of the image are the Sun’s progress across the sky over the whole period. When clouds come between the Sun and the camera, breaks in the streak form but, as can be seen here, no clouds obscured the sky during the entire exposure. Perfect astronomy weather in other words! The VLT’s Unit Telescope 1 is visible as a ghostly outline at the bottom of the picture.
The idea for creating the solargraphs at ESO’s telescopes came from Bob Fosbury, an astronomer based at ESO headquarters in Germany, after learning about the technique from Finnish artist Tarja Trygg. Trygg provided cameras — basically cylinders with a hole and a piece of unexposed photographic paper mounted along the inner wall — and Fosbury had Observatory director Andreas Kaufer deliver the cameras, known as “cans”, to ESO’s observatory sites in Chile and then collect them four months later for final processing by Trygg. “It’s an absolutely unique image,” Fosbury says. “I’ve never seen unbroken solar trails like this before in images exposed from all around the world.”
The colours appearing in this pinhole camera picture are not related to the actual colours of the scene. The colour comes from the appearance of finely divided metallic silver growing on silver halide grains. With solargraphic images, the photographic paper is not developed but simply scanned with a normal colour scanner after exposure and then “inverted” — switched from negative to positive — in the computer. This reveals the latent image, which in a normal photograph consists of around ten silver atoms per billion atoms of silver halide grain and is usually invisible. On continued exposure however, the latent image clumps grow so that the first visible signs of an image are yellowish, which then darkens to sepia and finally to a maroonish-brown hue as the particle size increases. Eventually the maximum exposure produces a slate grey shade.
In this solargraph you can see curved reflections of the solar image forming a “caustic” about one third of the way across the image. Such effects are common in solargraphs when the Sun is near the edge of the field and are created by reflections from the white paper where the photographic paper departs from a circle and flattens near its ends.
- Bob Fosbury’s Solargraphs: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bob_81667/4278253849/in/set-72157620933251618/
- Tarja Trygg’s Solargraphy page: http://www.solargraphy.com/
The European Southern Observatory’s Headquarters chills out in the snow beneath the full Moon one late afternoon in January. The winter snows at the Garching technical campus north of Munich, Germany make a stark contrast to the dry deserts of ESO’s observatories in Chile.
ESO Headquarters is the scientific, technical and administrative centre of ESO and is where technical development programmes are carried out, providing the observatories with the most advanced instruments in the world. It is also home to the Space Telescope — European Coordinating Facility, operated jointly by ESO and the European Space Agency.
This image is available as a mounted image in the ESOshop.
Glowing in the cosmos at a distance of about 50 million light-years away, the galaxy NGC 936 bears a striking resemblance to the Twin Ion Engine (TIE) starfighters used by the evil Dark Lord Darth Vader and his crew in the epic motion picture Star Wars. The galaxy’s shiny bulge and a bar-like structure crossing it bring to mind the central engine and cockpit of the spacecraft; while a ring of stars surrounding the galactic core completes the parallel, corresponding to the wings of the TIE fighters that are equipped with solar panels.
This galaxy harbours exclusively old stars and shows no sign of any recent star formation. Bars such as that observed in NGC 936 are common features of galaxies; however, this one is significantly more marked than average. Although a perfect symbol for the dark side of the “Force”, it is still debatable whether this galaxy is dominated, like most others, by a large amount of dark matter.
This image has been obtained using the FORS instrument mounted on one of the 8.2-metre telescopes of ESO’s Very Large Telescope on top of Cerro Paranal, Chile. It combines data acquired through four wide-band filters (B, V, R, I). The field of view is about 7 arcminutes.
In this dazzling image, the galaxy NGC 1427A is seen as it travels through the Fornax cluster of galaxies, to which it belongs. NGC 1427A is an example of a dwarf irregular galaxy, a type of galaxy that is significantly less bright than regular galaxies and characterised by a peculiar shape. In this particular case, the shape of the galaxy has been forged by its rapid, upwards motion through the cluster: with a speed of two million kilometres per hour relative to the cluster, NCG 1427A is being torn apart and will eventually be disrupted.
The interaction with the Fornax cluster has led to the birth of many stars, seen here as a boomerang-shaped region of young, glowing stars in the galaxy. NGC 1427A exhibits a striking resemblance to one of our galactic neighbours, the Large Magellanic Cloud, which has undergone similar episodes of star formation, triggered by its interaction with the Milky Way.
This image has been obtained using the FORS instrument mounted on one of the 8.2-metre telescopes of ESO’s Very Large Telescope on top of Cerro Paranal, Chile. It combines data acquired through four broadband filters (U, B, V, I) and a narrowband one (H-alpha).
North is on the left and West is up. The field of view is 7 arcminutes.
Portrayed in this image is the spiral galaxy NGC 4945, a close neighbour of the Milky Way. Belonging to the Centaurus A group of galaxies, it is located at a distance of almost 13 million light-years. Showing a remarkable resemblance to our own galaxy, NGC 4945 also hides a supermassive black hole behind the thick, ring-shaped structure of dust visible in the picture. But, unlike the black hole at the centre of our Milky Way, the million-solar-mass black hole inside NGC 4945 is an Active Galactic Nucleus that is frantically consuming any surrounding matter, and so releasing tremendous amounts of energy.
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.
A bird soaring over the remote, sparsely populated Atacama Desert in northern Chile — possibly the driest desert in the world — might be surprised to come upon the technological oasis of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Paranal. The world’s most advanced ground-based facility for astronomy, the site hosts four 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes, four 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes, the VLT Survey Telescope (VST), and the 4.1-metre Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA), seen in the distance on the next mountain peak over from the main platform.
This aerial view also shows other structures, including the Observatory Control Room building, on the main platform’s front edge.
This aerial photograph shows the summit of Cerro Paranal in northern Chile, the home of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). This flagship facility for ground-based astronomy hosts four 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes along with four mobile 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes. These can work together, in groups of two or three, as one giant telescope, known as the VLT Interferometer, or VLTI.
This image displays the winding access road that leads up to the observing platform as well as the Observatory Control Room in the front. The picture helps give a sense of the remoteness of the VLT site, which is located in the extremely arid Atacama Desert at an altitude of 2600 metres. The first Unit Telescope began operations at Paranal in 1999. The VLT Survey Telescope, which is scheduled to begin observations in 2010, is missing from this photo, taken in 2004.
This impressive vertical panorama shows the ESO 3.6-metre telescope in great detail. The telescope is located on the 2400 m high La Silla mountain, home of ESO’s first observing site in the southern edges of the Atacama Desert. Equipped with HARPS, the best exoplanet finder in the world, the ESO 3.6-metre telescope was commissioned in 1977 and completely upgraded in 1999. The primary mirror is located below the dark protective cover, and the large black structure above holds the secondary mirror. The white cube on top of the secondary mirror mount contains the computer that controls the secondary mirror.
This architectural concept drawing of ESO’s planned European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) shows the world’s largest planned optical telescope gazing heavenwards. Slated to begin operations early in the next decade, the E-ELT will tackle the biggest scientific challenges of our time. A chief goal will be to track down Earth-like planets around other stars in the “habitable zones” where life could exist — one of the Holy Grails of modern observational astronomy. The E-ELT will also make fundamental contributions to cosmology by measuring the properties of the first stars and galaxies and probing the nature of dark matter and dark energy.
On top of this, astronomers are also planning for the unexpected — new and unforeseeable questions will surely arise from the discoveries made with the E-ELT. With a primary mirror measuring an astounding 39 metres across, the E-ELT will collect 25 times more light than one 8.2-metre telescope at ESO’s Very Large Telescope observatory in Chile, which is currently a world leader in terms of astronomical observational capacity.
The design for the E-ELT shown here was published in 2011 and is preliminary.
This image beautifully captures the zodiacal light, a triangular glow seen best in night skies free of overpowering moonlight and light pollution. The photograph was taken at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile in September 2009, facing west some minutes after the Sun had set. A sea of clouds has settled in the valley below La Silla, which sits at an altitude of 2400 metres, with lesser peaks and ridges poking through the mist.
The zodiacal light is sunlight reflected by dust particles between the Sun and Earth, and is best seen close to sunrise or sunset. As its name implies, this celestial glow appears in the ring of constellations known as the zodiac. These are found along the ecliptic, which is the eastward apparent “path” that the Sun traces across Earth’s sky.
This image shows the interior of one of the four 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes at ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile. Designated Unit Telescope 1, or UT1, and named Antu, this complex science machine has been in operation at Paranal since 1999. Just before sunset, technicians retract UT1’s windshield and work to finalise the preparations at the telescope for the night-time observation run. During the day, the enclosure is kept shut to protect the delicate and valuable scientific equipment inside, as well as to ensure minimal temperature differences between the telescope and the atmosphere at opening.
To the left of the telescope’s main mirror housing, in the centre of the image, is the Infrared Spectrometer And Array Camera (ISAAC), which was, until recently, attached to this instrument. It has now been moved to another of the Unit Telescopes, UT3 or Melipal.
This image is available as a mounted image in the ESOshop.
A new architectural concept drawing of ESO’s planned European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) shows the telescope at work, with its dome open and its record-setting 40-metre-class primary mirror pointed to the sky. In this illustration, clouds float over the valley overlooked by the E-ELT’s summit. The comparatively tiny pickup truck parked at the base of the E-ELT helps to give a sense of the scale of this massive telescope. The E-ELT dome will be similar in size to a football stadium, with a diameter at its base of over 100 m and a height of over 80 m.
Scheduled to begin operations early in the next decade, the E-ELT will help track down Earth-like planets around other stars in the “habitable zones” where life could exist — one of the Holy Grails of modern observational astronomy. The E-ELT will also make fundamental contributions to cosmology by measuring the properties of the first stars and galaxies and probing the nature of dark matter and dark energy.
The design for the E-ELT shown here was published in 2009 and is preliminary.
This view of ESO’s La Silla Observatory reveals the splendour of the night sky and shows several of the domed telescopes located at the site. The glowing band of the plane of the Milky Way Galaxy slants through the sky from the upper left to the lower middle, where the now closed GPO (Grand Prism Objectif) dome, which also hosted the Marly 1-metre telescope, looms in the foreground, together with the Danish 1.54-metre telescope. The ghostly, bluish objects above the GPO’s dome are two galaxies belonging to the Milky Way’s close neighbourhood and known as the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds.
La Silla’s collection of domed telescopes also includes the ESO 3.6-metre telescope, home to HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher), the world’s foremost exoplanet hunter, and the 3.58-metre New Technology Telescope, which 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 ESO and now applied to most of the world’s current large telescopes. La Silla is one of the most scientifically productive ground-based facilities in the world after ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) observatory, both of which are located in northern Chile’s Atacama Desert.
The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), with a main mirror 39 metres in diameter, will be the world’s biggest eye on the sky when it becomes operational early in the next decade. 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 of modern observational astronomy.
The telescope design itself is revolutionary and is based on a novel five-mirror scheme that results in exceptional image quality. The primary mirror consists of almost 800 segments, each 1.4 metres wide, but only 50 mm thick. The optical design calls for an immense secondary mirror 4.2 metres in diameter, bigger than the primary mirrors of any of ESO's telescopes at La Silla.
Adaptive mirrors are incorporated into the optics of the telescope to compensate for the fuzziness in the stellar images introduced by atmospheric turbulence. One of these mirrors is supported by more than 6000 actuators that can distort its shape a thousand times per second.
The telescope will have several science instruments. It will be possible to switch from one instrument to another within minutes. The telescope and dome will also be able to change positions on the sky and start a new observation in a very short time.
The very detailed design for the E-ELT shown here is preliminary.
ESO astronomer Yuri Beletsky captured images of the transport of one of the 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes (AT) that compose, together with their larger 8.2-metre companions, ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) array. The AT was moved with the utmost care from the base camp, where it had been undergoing maintenance, including the recoating of its mirrors, back to the VLT platform on top of Cerro Paranal.
The ATs form part of the VLT Interferometer (VLTI), allowing this unique facility to operate every night. The ATs are mounted on tracks and can be moved between precisely defined observing positions, collecting light that is then combined in the VLTI. The ATs are very unusual telescopes, as they are self-contained in individual ultra-compact protective domes, and travel with their own electronics, ventilation, hydraulics and cooling systems. Each AT has a transporter that lifts the telescope and moves it from one position to the next. Although for the transfer down to base camp, ESO engineers and technicians rely on a more traditional means of transport, the truck.
After almost two months of life-changing experiences, bringing the excitement of astronomy to young children in Chile, Bolivia and Peru, the journey of the GalileoMobile Project has come to an end.
As illustrated in this image, the astronomers and educators in the Galilomobile team visited numerous schools and villages during their expedition, engaging young students in educational activities about astronomy and science, and offering amazing stargazing opportunities to the local communities, in a region with one of the clearest skies on Earth.
Last week the team visited ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), then continued to Taltal, the closest town to the VLT’s home, Cerro Paranal. Around sunset on 26 November, the GalileoMobile team showed the community of Taltal the highlights of the whole voyage, a voyage that covered around 5,000 kilometres through the Andes. The GalileoMobile was received with great enthusiasm by the people of Taltal. Hundreds of students took part to a ceremony that took place in the main square in Taltal, led by Guillermo Hidalgo, the town’s Mayor. The event ended up with a massive star party, which marked the perfect closing of this Special Project of the International Year of Astronomy 2009.
The GalileoMobile is supported by the European Southern Observatory, whose host country is Chile, the Max Planck Society (MPG/MPE/MPA/MPS), NORDITA, Regione Molise and the Optical Society of America.
More information on the GalileoMobile project can be found in the ESO Press Release eso0937.
This dramatic triptych shows the Moon rise from left to right through the night sky over ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) observatory at Paranal in northern Chile. Already aloft in the heavens and glowing in the centre of the image is Venus, Earth’s closest planetary neighbour. Shining to Venus’s right, the giant, though more distant planet, Jupiter appears as a small orb that seems to rotate around Venus as time passes. Such apparent celestial near misses — although the heavenly bodies are actually tens to hundreds of millions of kilometres apart — are called conjunctions.
Still other sights delight in the sky over Paranal. The radiant, reddish plane of the Milky Way smoulders on the horizon, with massive bands of dust giving this bright region a mottled complexion. On the ground, an 8.2-metre VLT Unit Telescope on the right and a 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescope to the left silently witness the splendour above, while probing the sky to address some of astronomy’s remaining mysteries. The triptych is composed of three exposures of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter and one exposure of the Paranal telescopes.
A probe was launched last Friday (13 November 2009) from ESO’s Paranal observatory in northern Chile — home of the Very Large Telescope (VLT) — aboard a weather balloon. Such probes, called radiosondes, measure various atmospheric parameters and transmit them to a receiver on the ground. Researchers from ESO, the University of Lethbridge (Canada) and Universidad de Valparaiso (Chile) are currently in the middle of a 12-day programme, during which they plan to launch 29 radiosondes. Each night, parallel observations with the VLT instruments UVES, CRIRES and VISIR are carefully orchestrated to coincide with two additional radiosonde launches, while an infrared radiometer provides continuous coverage. This powerful combination of instruments and methods will provide a better understanding of the distribution and amount of water vapour in the atmosphere above Paranal, which is highly relevant for astronomical observations. The knowledge gained from these data can be used to optimise science operations at the VLT and, in the future, at the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).
The team members are: Arlette Chacón, Lissette Cortes, and Lizett Illanes (Universidad de Valparaiso), Richard Querel and Greg Tompkins (University of Lethbridge), and Gerardo Avila, Gordon Gillet, Carlos Guirao, Reinhard Hanuschik, Florian Kerber, Gaspare LoCurto, Marc Sarazin, Alain Smette (ESO), Michel Cure (U Valparaiso) and David Naylor (U Lethbridge).
The Milky Way arches across this rare 360-degree panorama of the night sky above the Paranal platform, home of ESO’s Very Large Telescope. The image was made from 37 individual frames with a total exposure time of about 30 minutes, taken in the early morning hours. The Moon is just rising and the zodiacal light shines above it, while the Milky Way stretches across the sky opposite the observatory.
The open telescope domes of the world’s most advanced ground-based astronomical observatory are all visible in the image: the four smaller 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes that can be used together in the interferometric mode, and the four giant 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes. To the right in the image and below the arc of the Milky Way, two of our galactic neighbours, the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds, can be seen.
An amazing interactive virtual tour is available here
A laser beam shoots out of Yepun, the fourth Unit Telescope of Europe’s flagship observatory, ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). This beam is used to create an artificial star above Paranal to assist the adaptive optics instruments on the VLT. Adaptive optics is a technique that allows astronomers to overcome the blurring effect of the atmosphere and obtain images almost as sharp as would be possible if the whole telescope were placed in space, above Earth's atmosphere.
Adaptive optics, however, requires a nearby reference star that has to be relatively bright, thereby limiting the area of the sky that can be surveyed. To overcome this difficulty, astronomers at Paranal use a powerful laser that creates an artificial star where and when they need it (see eso0607 and eso0727).
Launching such a powerful laser from a telescope is a state-of-the-art technology, whose set-up and operation is a continuous challenge. As seen from the image, this is, however, a technology now well mastered on Paranal. The image was taken from inside the dome of the telescope and reveals nicely how the laser is located on top of the 1.2-metre secondary mirror of the telescope.
Sitting in the stunning environment surrounding ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) on Cerro Paranal, Chile, are Joe Liske from ESO and Eva Noyola from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. The photo is a still image from the recently released 3D film, The EYE 3D — Life and Research on Cerro Paranal, directed by Nikolai Vialkowitsch.
The movie, starring the two young scientists, as well as other people involved in the exciting activities at the VLT, offers a brand new, three-dimensional take on the life and research of astronomers. It has been produced by parallax raumprojektion and fact&film, in close collaboration with ESO and other partners and will be coming soon in cinemas across Germany.
Don’t forget to wear red-cyan glasses to enjoy the spectacular 3D effect!
- The movie's ESO web page
- The movie’s external web page: http://www.theeye3d.eu
- The EYE 3D, press kit (German, PDF format)
Portrayed in this beautiful image is the spiral galaxy NGC 1448, with a prominent disc of young and very bright stars surrounding its small, shining core. Located about 60 million light-years away from the Sun, this galaxy has recently been a prolific factory of supernovae, the dramatic explosions that mark the death of stars : after a first one observed in this galaxy in 1983, two more have been discovered during the past decade.
Visible as a red dot inside the disc, in the upper right part of the image, is the supernova observed in 2003 (SN 2003hn), whereas another one, detected in 2001 (SN 2001el), can be noticed as a tiny blue dot in the central part of the image, just below the galaxy’s core. If captured at the peak of the explosion, a supernova might be as bright as the whole galaxy that hosts it.
This image was obtained using the FORS instrument mounted on one of the 8.2-metre telescopes of ESO’s Very Large Telescope on top of Cerro Paranal, Chile. It combines exposures taken through three filters (B, V, R) on several occasions, between July 2002 and the end of November 2003. The field of view is 7 arcminutes.
This amazing panorama shows the observing platform of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) on Cerro Paranal, in Chile. Taken in the early morning, with the Moon still high in the sky, the air of peace and tranquility is in stark contrast to the frantic activity at the observatory. The four giant 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes of the VLT are all targeting specific celestial objects, helping astronomers in their daily quest to understand the mysteries of the Universe. A laser is fired from Unit Telescope 4, Yepun, to help the adaptive optics system of the telescope, and counteract the blurring effect of the atmosphere, allowing very sharp images to be obtained. Meanwhile, three of the four smaller 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes are working together in interferometric mode to obtain an even more detailed view of a different cosmic object.
A QuickTime VR is also available on this link.
Sparkling at the edge of a giant cloud of gas and dust, the Flame Nebula, also referred to as NGC 2024, is in fact the hideout of a cluster of young, blue, massive stars, whose light sets the gas ablaze. Located 1,300 light-years away towards the constellation of Orion, the nebula owes its typical colour to the glow of hydrogen atoms, heated by the stars. The latter are obscured by a dark, forked dusty structure in the centre of the image and are only revealed by infrared observations.
This image is based on data acquired with the 1.5-metre Danish telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, combining three exposures in the filters B (40 seconds), V (80 seconds) and R (40 seconds).
Through three giant images, the GigaGalaxy Zoom project reveals the full sky as it appears with the unaided eye from one of the darkest deserts on Earth, then zooms in on a rich region of the Milky Way using an amateur telescope, and finally uses the power of a professional telescope to reveal the details of a famous nebula. In this way, the project links the sky we can all see with the deep, “hidden” cosmos that astronomers study on a daily basis and allows the viewers to take a breathtaking dive into our Milky Way. The wonderful quality of the images is a testament to the splendour of the night sky at ESO’s sites in Chile, which are the most productive astronomical observatories in the world.
Cerro Paranal, in the Chilean Atacama Desert, is considered one of the best astronomical observing sites in the world. It is home to ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), the flagship facility for European ground-based astronomy.
The humidity at Paranal is generally below five percent and the overall precipitation is only 4 mm per year — a rather dry place indeed. It does, on very rare occasions, snow on this 2600-metre-high peak as illustrated by this beautiful image taken in 2002. The snow-covered terrain gleams under a bright blue sky as the snow storm passes.
In this image, two spiral galaxies, similar in looks to the Milky Way, are participating in a cosmic ballet, which, in a few billion years, will end up in a complete galactic merger — the two galaxies will become a single, bigger one.
Located about 150 million light-years away in the constellation of Canis Major (the Great Dog), NGC 2207 — the larger of the two — and its companion, IC 2163, form a magnificent pair. English astronomer John Herschel discovered them in 1835.
The fatal gravitational attraction of NGC 2207 is already wreaking havoc throughout its smaller partner, distorting IC 2163’s shape and flinging out stars and gas into long streamers that extend over 100,000 light-years. The space between the individual stars in a galaxy is so vast, however, that when these galaxies collide, virtually none of the stars in them will actually physically smash into each other.
This image was captured with the ESO Faint Object Spectrograph and Camera (EFOSC2) through three wide band filters (B, V, R). EFOSC2 has a 4.1 x 4.1 arcminute field of view and is attached to the 3.6-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile.
In this photograph taken on 18 August 2009, a European ALMA antenna takes shape at the observatory's Operations Support Facility (OSF). ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, 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 telescope is being built on the breathtaking location of the Chajnantor plateau, at 5000 metres altitude in the Chilean Andes. The OSF, at which the antennas are being assembled and tested, is at an altitude of 2900 metres. ESO has contracted with the AEM (Alcatel Alenia Space France, Alcatel Alenia Space Italy, European Industrial Engineering S.r.L., MT Aerospace) Consortium for the supply of 25 of the 12-metre diameter ALMA antennas, with options to increase the number to 32. ALMA is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile.
Stars such as our Sun do not contain enough mass to finish their lives in the glorious explosions known as supernovae. However, they are still able to salute their imminent demise into dense, Earth-sized embers called white dwarfs by first expelling colourful shells of gas known as planetary nebulae. This misnomer comes from the similarity in appearance of these spherical mass expulsions to giant planets when seen through small telescopes.
NGC 6781 is a nice representative of these cosmic bubbles. The planetary nebula lies a few thousand light-years away towards the constellation of Aquila (the Eagle) and is approximately two light-years across. Within NGC 6781, shells of gas blown off from the faint, but very hot, central star’s surface expand out into space. These shells shine under the harsh ultraviolet radiation from the progenitor star in intricate and beautiful patterns. The central star will steadily cool down and darken, eventually disappearing from view into cosmic oblivion.
This image was captured with the ESO Faint Object Spectrograph and Camera (EFOSC2) through three wide band filters (B, V, R) and two narrow-band ones (H-alpha, OIII). EFOSC2 is attached to the 3.6-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. EFOSC2 has a field of view of 4.1 x 4.1 arcminutes.
The great hunter Orion hangs above ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), in this stunning, previously unseen, image. As the VLT is in the Southern Hemisphere, Orion is seen here head down, as if plunging towards the Chilean Atacama Desert.
At night the four giant 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes of the VLT are all turned skywards to help astronomers in their quest to understand the Universe. The band of the Milky Way, crisscrossed by contrasting dark dust lanes, stretches up over the VLT’s Unit Telescope 3 (Melipal), with the bright star Capella glinting just above the telescope. Up and to the left, Orion’s belt and sword, containing the Orion Nebula, lie between the blue star Rigel and the orange Betelgeuse. The red Rosetta Nebula is seen in the middle part of the Milky Way, while Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, hangs above the scene. The red patch just above the VLT Unit Telescope 2 (Kueyen) is the California Nebula, nicely offset by the blue of the beautiful Pleiades star cluster a little to the left and above.