Press Release

ESO PR Highlights in 2005

3 January 2006

2005 was the year of Physics. It was thus also in part the year of astronomy and this is clearly illustrated by the numerous breakthroughs that were achieved, in particular using ESO's telescopes.

One of the highlights was without any doubt the confirmation of the first image of an exoplanet, around the star 2M1207. ESO's telescopes also found a Neptune-mass exoplanet around a small star - a discovery that proves crucial in the census of other planetary systems, and imaged a tiny companion in the close vicinity of the star GQ Lupi, a very young object still surrounded by a disc, with an age between 100,000 and 2 million years.

Moreover, using a new high-contrast adaptive optics camera on the VLT, the NACO Simultaneous Differential Imager, or NACO SDI, astronomers were able for the first time to image a companion 120 times fainter than its star , very near the star AB Doradus A. This companion appears to be almost twice as heavy as theory predicts it to be.

ESO's telescopes proved very useful in helping to solve a 30-year old puzzle . Astronomers have for the first time observed the visible light from a short gamma-ray burst (GRB). Using the 1.5m Danish telescope at La Silla (Chile), they showed that these short, intense bursts of gamma-ray emission most likely originate from the violent collision of two merging neutron stars (ESO Press Release eso0533). Additional evidence came from witnessing another event with the VLT.

Also in this field, astronomers found the farthest known gamma-ray burst with ESO's VLT, observing an object with a redshift 6.3, i.e. that is seen when the Universe was less than 900 million years old.

On July 4, NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft plunged onto Comet 9P/Tempel 1 with the aim to create a crater and expose pristine material from beneath the surface. For two days before and six days after, all major ESO telescopes have been observing the comet, in a coordinated fashion and in very close collaboration with the space mission' scientific team, in what was perhaps the most comprehensive ground-observing campaign of a celestial object. On this occasion, a dedicated Deep Impact at ESO web site was created, reporting on all the developments.

This was not the sole contribution of ESO to the study of the solar system . The NACO SDI instrument was used to obtain outstanding images of Titan, the satellite of Saturn and NACO also allowed astronomers to discover the first triple asteroid - two small asteroids orbiting a larger one known since 1866 as 87 Sylvia.

2005 was also a very important year for sub-millimetric astronomy at ESO. In July, APEX, the 12-m Atacama Pathfinder Experiment's telescope had first light and since then, has been performing regular science observations. Moreover, two major contracts have been signed for ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array project, among which the largest-ever European industrial contract for a ground-based astronomy project.

ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) proves to be a very efficient science machine that reached in April 2005, the count of more than 1000 scientific papers and the trend does not seem to change, as about 350 papers were published in 2005 based on data collected with the VLT. This efficiency was also recognised worldwide as ESO received the ComputerWorld Honors Program 21st Century Achievement Award in the Science Category.

The interferometric mode of the VLT (VLTI) was able to observe with unprecedented detail the environment of two stars. The VLTI has also seen another extension of its already impressive capabilities by combining interferometrically the light from two relocatable 1.8-m Auxiliary Telescopes.

In 2005 again, many nice, amazing astronomical images have been obtained with ESO's telescopes: the super star cluster Westerlund 1, the blob in the LMC, dream galaxies, a colossal cosmic eye, a monster being fed, a perturbed family, and a cosmic Christmas ghost. All this, in addition to some images of the observatories.

These developments are described in ESO's Press Releases, most with Press Photos, cf. the 2005 PR Index. Some of last year's ESO PR highlights may be accessed directly via the first clickable image above while some of the Press Photos are available via the second clickable image.

ESO Media Contacts are on the Public Affairs Dept. Contact page.

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About the Release

Release No.:eso0601
Legacy ID:PR 01/06
Name:European Southern Observatory