cerro-paranal

The European Southern Observatory's VLT Survey Telescope brings us a spectacular new view of the Triangulum Galaxy. Also known as Messier 33 and NGC 598, this galaxy is one of our nearest cosmic neighbors, located about three million light-years away in the small northern constellation of Triangulum. It is a spiral galaxy with a surprisingly low mass and almost absent central bulge. The new image beautifully highlights its massive star clusters, dust clouds, and brilliant, glowing red regions of hydrogen gas ionized by the powerful ultraviolet light of newborn stars. The VST, used to obtain the image, is a state-of-the-art 2.6-metre telescope at the ESO observatory perched atop Cerro Paranal in northern Chile.

Recorded last week, this dawn portrait of snowy mountain and starry sky captures a very rare scenario. The view does feature a pristine sky above the 2,600 meter high mountain Cerro Paranal, but clear skies over Paranal are not at all unusual. That’s one reason the mountain is home to the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope. Considering the number of satellites now in orbit, the near sunrise streak of asatellite glinting at the upper left isn’t rare either. And the long, bright trail of a meteor can often be spotted this time of year too. The one at the far right is associated with the annual Perseid meteor shower whose peak is expected tomorrow (Friday, August 12). In fact, the rarest aspect of the picture is just the snow. Cerro Paranal rises above South America’s Atacama desert, known as the driest place on planet Earth.

Road to astronomers’ paradise

The southern sky and the Milky Way is photographed in the morning twilight above a road approaching the European Southern Observatory (ESO) site of Cerro Paranal, in the Atacama Desert, Chile. At 2,635 meters (8,645 ft) from sea level, with its dark and transparent sky, Paranal is home to some of the world’s leading telescopes. On top is the Very Large Telescope (VLT); composed of four 8-metre telescopes.

Image credit: Christoph Malin

Thunderbolts and lightning over Cerro Paranal

In this electrifying image, taken on Friday 7 June 2013, a furious thunderstorm is discharging its mighty rage over Cerro Paranal. The colossal enclosures of the four VLT Unit Telescopes, each one the size of an eight-storey building, are dwarfed under the hammering of the powerful storm.

In the left of the image, a solitary star has emerged to witness the show — a single point of light against an obscured sky. This star is Procyon, a bright binary star in the constellation of Canis Minor (The Lesser Dog).

Clouds over ESO’s Paranal Observatory are a rare sight. On average, the site experiences an astonishing 330 clear days every year. Lightning is even rarer, as the observatory is located in one of the driest places in the world: the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile, 2,600 metres above sea level. If there are any clouds, most of the time the observatory stands above them.

Image credit: ESO/G. Hüdepohl

5

The Very Large Telescope (VLT) is a telescope operated by the European Southern Observatory on Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. The VLT consists of four individual telescopes, each with a primary mirror 8.2 m across, which are generally used separately but can be used together to achieve very high angular resolution. The four separate optical telescopes are known as Antu, Kueyen, Melipal and Yepun, which are all words for astronomical objects in the Mapuche language. The telescopes form an array which is complemented by four movable Auxiliary Telescopes (ATs) of 1.8 m aperture. (Wikipedia)

Have you ever wondered what’s it like to be inside these telescopes? DeepSkyVideos on YouTube gives us very informative video walkthroughs for all four telescopes: UT-4UT-3UT-1, and UT-2.

(Image and footage credits: ESO VLT Page, SpaceRip)

Paranal Nights by European Southern Observatory on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
Gaze up at the night sky from ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile, and you will be greeted with a stunning view like this one. Flecks of blue, orange, red; each a different star, galaxy, nebula, or more, together forming a sparkling sky overhead. Astronomers peer at this beautiful backdrop, trying to unravel the mysteries of the Universe.

More information: www.eso.org/public/images/potw1401a/

Credit:
ESO/Y. Beletsky

Made with Flickr

The snows of Paranal

This dawn portrait of snowy mountain and starry sky captures a very rare scenario. The view does feature a pristine sky above the 2,600 meter high mountain Cerro Paranal, but clear skies over Paranal are not at all unusual. That’s one reason the mountain is home to the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope. Considering the number of satellites now in orbit, the near sunrise streak of a satellite glinting at the upper left isn’t rare either. And the long, bright trail of a meteor can often be spotted this time of year too. The one at the far right is associated with the annual Perseid meteor shower. In fact, the rarest aspect of the picture is just the snow. Cerro Paranal rises above South America’s Atacama desert, known as the driest place on planet Earth.

Image credit & copyright: Yuri Beletsky (ESO)

Eye of Sauron star spotted by planet-hunting camera

This Eye of Sauron is the magnificent ringed star HR 4796A, in the southern constellation of Centaurus. It is one of the first images produced by SPHERE, the Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research instrument, installed last month on the ESO’s Very Large Telescope atop Cerro Paranal in Chile. 

To a typical optical telescope, HR 4796A’s dark centre is a blazing disk of starlight that swamps the weaker glow of the dust ring. SPHERE filters out the star’s light to acquire exceptionally sharp images like this. The instrument also corrects for the effects of Earth’s atmosphere and can differentiate between starlight and a planet’s glow, on the basis of the colour and polarisation of light. These talents will allow SPHERE to discover planets orbiting distant stars and study them with spectacular clarity. 

Source: newscientist.com
Image Credit: ESO/J.-L. Beuzit et al./SPHERE Consortium.

Milky Way over Paranal

A trail of lights leads the way towards Cerro Paranal, atop which sits ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). Looming over the flagship observatory, the familiar glow of the Milky Way, studded by dark dust lanes, appears to touch the telescopes. The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds are also visible in the lower left of the image.

Credit: ESO/A. Ghizzi Panizza (www.albertoghizzipanizza.com)

An oasis or a secret lair?

This image shows a dark Chilean sky filled with spectacular star trails — caused by the Earth’s rotation during the camera’s long exposure time. Underneath these dramatic streaks lies the Paranal Residencia, an oasis to the staff and visitors to ESO's Very Large Telescope, located high on Cerro Paranal in the Chilean desert.

Construction of the Residencia began in 1998 and was completed by 2002. Since then, it has offered a welcome break from the harsh, dry climate of the desert to the scientists and engineers who work at Paranal Observatory.

The four-story building has the majority of its structure buried underground. The facility was designed by German architects Auer+Weber to complement the surrounding environment. From certain angles, the combination of hi-tech utilitarian architecture and inconspicuous, almost camouflage-like design is reminiscent of a villain’s secret lair. Perhaps it is no surprise that the Residencia was selected as the setting for the final battle in the 2008 James Bond movie Quantum of Solace.

Image credit: John Colosimo/ ESO

vimeo

(Make sure to watch this full-screen with the sound on!)

ASTRONOMER’S PARADISE

It’s cold, it’s dry, the air is thin. The nearest city is miles away across a barren landscape of boulder-strewn hills. At night, the only lights to guide you are the stars in the sky. Astronomers, welcome to paradise.

Known as the driest place on Earth, Chile’s Atacama Desert has long been recognized as an ideal spot for ground-based telescopes. The skies are free of light pollution, and the high plains enjoy long stretches of steady atmospheric conditions, allowing astronomers to peer deeply into the cosmos without having to worry about turbulence distorting the data.

(Related blog: “The Dry Edge of Life—Studying ‘Martians’ in Chile.”)

In the new time-lapse movie above, photographers Christoph Malin and Babak Tafreshi (founder of The World at Night, or TWAN, program) offer a rarely seen glimpse of Cerro Paranal, one of the high hills in the Atacama that houses instruments for the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

Made by invitation from the ESO, the video includes more than 7,500 still images taken between October and November 2011. It shows the beauty of the dark Atacama skies, sometimes framed by the four main domes of the Very Large Telescope, as well as a brief “behind the scenes” look at what telescope operators see from inside one of the domes.

In an email to National Geographic, Tafreshi says of the Atacama:

There are not many locations left on this planet where you can still experience a dark sky like this. I have been to similar dark skies in other continents, from the heart of Sahara in Algeria to Himalayas or islands in the Pacific. But what makes Atacama beat others is being dry and clear for so many nights per year.

It’s not permitted for tourists and regular visiting groups to stay on Paranal at night time, as it might affect the expensive work time of the ultrahigh-precision telescopes. However, to enjoy the stunning night sky of Atacama it’s not necessary to be on this mountain or exactly this region. … [You] just need to be far from the few main cities in the area and the dusty mine industry. Some of our footage in this video is also made from mountains and desert areas some kilometers away from Paranal.

Walking on the desert near Paranal between the scattered stones and boulders on the pale red dust feels like being on Mars, but under the Earth sky.

One of the most astonishing experiences under such a starry sky is the view of the Milky Way. In several scenes of the film, the setting arc of the Milky Way is captured over the cloud-covered Pacific coastline. The band of the Milky Way is bulged and becomes most brilliant toward the galactic center in the constellation Sagittarius, which is prominent in these scenes. Watching the arc of the Milky Way near the desert horizon is a true scene of science fiction.