eso0801 — Organisation Release
ESO Highlights in 2007
2 January 2008
Another great year went by for ESO, the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere. From 1 January 2007, with the official joining of the Czech Republic, ESO has 13 member states, and since September, ESO has a new Director General, Tim de Zeeuw.
Many scientific discoveries were made possible with ESO's telescopes. Arguably, the most important is the discovery of the first Earth-like planet in the habitable zone of a low-mass red dwarf (eso0722). If there is water on this planet, then it should be liquid!
In our own Solar System also, astronomers made stunning breakthroughs with ESO's telescopes, observing the effect of the light from the Sun on an asteroid's rotation (eso0711), describing in unprecedented detail the double asteroid Antiope, peering at the rings of Uranus (eso0737), discovering a warm south pole on Neptune (eso0741), showing a widespread and persistent morning drizzle of methane over the western foothills of Titan's major continent, and studying in the greatest details the wonderful Comet McNaught (eso0707).
In the study of objects slightly more massive than planets, the VLT found that brown dwarfs form in a similar manner to normal stars. The VLT made it also possible to measure the age of a fossil star that was clearly born at the dawn of time (eso0723).
Other discoveries included reconstructing the site of a flare on a solar-like star, catching a star smoking (eso0734), revealing a reservoir of dust around an elderly star, uncovering a flat, nearly edge-on disc of silicates in the heart of the magnificent Ant Nebula, finding material around a star before it exploded (eso0731), fingerprinting the Milky Way (eso0715), revealing a rich circular cluster of stars, hunting galaxies, discovering teenage galaxies, and finding the first known triplet of supermassive black holes (eso0702).
On the instrumentation side, the VLT has been equipped with a new 'eye' to study the Universe in the near-infrared, Hawk-I (eso0736), while the Laser Guide Star used at the VLT to create an artificial star appears to fulfil all its promises. Successful tests were also done of a crucial technology for Extremely Large Telescopes (eso0719).
The VLT Rapid Response Mode showed it unique capabilities in the study of gamma-ray bursts (eso0717), as did the REM, a robotic telescope at La Silla, that allowed astronomers to measure for the first time the speed of matter ejected in these tremendous explosions (eso0726).
The world's largest bolometer camera for submillimetre astronomy, LABOCA, is now in service at the 12-m APEX telescope, while the construction of ALMA moves forwards. Two 12-m ALMA prototype antennas were first linked together as an integrated system to observe an astronomical object, the ALMA Operations Support Facility is almost completed, and the ALMA transporters were shipped to Chile (eso0732).
ESO is also present on the educational front with, for example, its annual international contest for students, Catch a Star (eso0746). In April 2007, ESO organised with its partners the second EIROforum Science on Stage festival, a unique event, showcasing the very best of today's science education and to which participated the European Commissioner for Science and Research, Janez Potočnik. The Commissioner also visited the Paranal observatory and took part in the observation of a beautiful galaxy (eso0749).
This was not the only nice image coming out from ESO telescopes. A rather amazing Cosmic Bird - or a gigantic Tinker Bell - was photographed, as well as a Purple Rose and a stellar firework.
And last but least, at the end of the year, the United Nations passed a resolution proclaiming 2009 the International Year of Astronomy (eso0754).