September 2009 — Giant eyes on the skies

Resembling Mars, with its red sand and lack of vegetation, the Atacama Desert is thought to be the driest place on Earth. The high altitude site and extreme dryness make excellent conditions for astronomical observations. Paranal is home to ESO’s Very Large Telescope array, the flagship facility for European astronomy at the beginning of the third millennium. It is the world’s most advanced optical telescope, consisting of four Unit Telescopes with main mirrors 8.2 metres in diameter and four movable 1.8-metre diameter Auxiliary Telescopes. The telescopes can work together, in groups of two or three, to form a giant interferometer, allowing astronomers to see details corresponding to a much larger telescope.

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ESO/F. Kamphues

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