Press Release

ESO’s Hidden Treasures Brought to Light

12 January 2011

ESO’s Hidden Treasures 2010 astrophotography competition attracted nearly 100 entries, and ESO is delighted to announce the winners. Hidden Treasures gave amateur astronomers the opportunity to search ESO’s vast archives of astronomical data for a well-hidden cosmic gem. Astronomy enthusiast Igor Chekalin from Russia won the first prize in this difficult but rewarding challenge — the trip of a lifetime to ESO’s Very Large Telescope at Paranal, Chile.

The pictures of the Universe that can be seen in ESO’s releases are impressive. However, many hours of skilful work are required to assemble the raw greyscale data captured by the telescopes into these colourful images, correcting them for distortions and unwanted signatures of the instrument, and enhancing them so as to bring out the details contained in the astronomical data. ESO has a team of professional image processors, but for the ESO’s Hidden Treasures 2010 competition, the experts decided to give astronomy and photography enthusiasts the opportunity to show the world what they could do with the mammoth amount of data contained in ESO’s archives.

The enthusiasts who responded to the call submitted nearly 100 entries in total — far exceeding initial expectations, given the difficult nature of the challenge. “We were completely taken aback both by the quantity and the quality of the images that were submitted. This was not a challenge for the faint-hearted, requiring both an advanced knowledge of data processing and an artistic eye. We are thrilled to have discovered so many talented people,” said Lars Lindberg Christensen, Head of ESO’s education and Public Outreach Department.

Digging through many terabytes of professional astronomical data, the entrants had to identify a series of greyscale images of a celestial object that would reveal the hidden beauty of our Universe.

The chance of a great reward for the lucky winner was enough to spur on the competitors; the first prize being a trip to ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Paranal, Chile, with guided tours and the opportunity to participate in a night’s observations. Runner-up prizes included an iPod, books and DVDs. Furthermore, the highest ranked images will be released for the world to see on as Photo Releases or Pictures of the Week, co-crediting the winners.

The jury evaluated the entries based on the quality of the data processing, the originality of the image and the overall aesthetic feel. As several of the highest ranked images were submitted by the same people, the jury decided to make awards to the ten most talented participants, so as to give more people the opportunity to win a prize and reward their hard work and talent.

The ten winners of the competition are:

  • First prize, a trip to Paranal + goodies: Igor Chekalin (Russia).
  • Second prize, an iPod Touch + goodies: Sergey Stepanenko (Ukraine).
  • Third Prize, VLT laser cube model + goodies: Andy Strappazzon (Belgium).
  • Fourth to tenth prizes, Eyes on the Skies Book + DVD + goodies: Joseph (Joe) DePasquale (USA), Manuel (Manu) Mejias (Argentina), Alberto Milani (Italy), Joshua (Josh) Barrington (USA), Oleg Maliy (Ukraine), Adam Kiil (United Kingdom), Javier Fuentes (Chile).

The ten winners submitted the twenty highest ranked images:


  1. M78 by Igor Chekalin.
  2. NGC3169 & NGC3166 and SN 2003cg by Igor Chekalin.
  3. NGC6729 by Sergey Stepanenko.
  4. The Moon by Andy Strappazzon.
  5. NGC 3621 by Joseph (Joe) DePasquale.
  6. NGC 371 by Manuel (Manu) Mejias.
  7. Dust of Orion Nebula (ESO 2.2m telescope) by Igor Chekalin.
  8. NGC1850 EMMI by Sergey Stepanenko.
  9. Abell 1060 by Manuel (Manu) Mejias.
  10. Celestial Prominences NGC3582 by Joseph DePasquale.
  11. Globular Cluster NGC288 by Alberto Milani.
  12. Antennae Galaxies by Alberto Milani.
  13. Sakurai's Object by Joshua (Josh) Barrington.
  14. NGC 1929, N44 Superbubble by Manuel (Manu) Mejias.
  15. NGC 3521 by Oleg Maliy.
  16. NGC 6744 by Andy Strappazzon.
  17. NGC 2217 by Oleg Maliy.
  18. VIMOS.2008-01-31T07_16_47j by Adam Kiil.
  19. NGC 2467 - number 2 by Josh Barrington.
  20. Haffner 18 and 19 by Javier Fuentes.


Igor Chekalin, winner of the trip to Paranal, says: “It was a great experience and pleasure to work with such amazing data. As an amateur astrophotographer, this was the most difficult processing and post-processing job I have ever done. My participation in the Hidden Treasures competition gave me a range of challenges, from installing new software to studying techniques and even operating systems that I did not know before.”

The success of the ESO’s Hidden Treasures 2010 competition and the enthusiasm of the skilled participants made it easy to decide to run a follow-up to the competition. Stay tuned and check for news about ESO’s Hidden Treasures 2011.

More information

ESO, the European Southern Observatory, is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive astronomical observatory. It is supported by 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Czechia, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and VISTA, the world’s largest survey telescope. ESO is the European partner of a revolutionary astronomical telescope ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. ESO is currently planning a 42-metre European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.



Olivier R. Hainaut
ESO, Astronomer and Science Liaison for the Education and Public Outreach Department
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6752
Cell: +49 151 2262 0554

Oana Sandu
ESO, Community Coordinator for the Education and Public Outreach Department
Garching bei München, Germany
Cell: +49 176 943 942 20

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About the Release

Release No.:eso1102
Type:Unspecified : Technology : Observatory


The winners of ESO’s Hidden Treasures 2010 competition
The winners of ESO’s Hidden Treasures 2010 competition
Astronomy enthusiast Igor Chekalin from Russia
Astronomy enthusiast Igor Chekalin from Russia