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.

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

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.

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The Very Large Telescope array (VLT) is the flagship facility for European ground-based astronomy at the beginning of the third Millennium. It is the world’s most advanced optical instrument, consisting of four Unit Telescopes with main mirrors of 8.2m diameter and four movable 1.8m diameter Auxiliary Telescopes. The telescopes can work together, to form a giant ‘interferometer’, the ESO Very Large Telescope Interferometer, allowing astronomers to see details up to 25 times finer than with the individual telescopes. The light beams are combined in the VLTI using a complex system of mirrors in underground tunnels where the light paths must be kept equal to distances less than 1/1000 mm over a hundred metres. With this kind of precision the VLTI can reconstruct images with an angular resolution of milliarcseconds, equivalent to distinguishing the two headlights of a car at the distance of the Moon.

The 8.2m diameter Unit Telescopes can also be used individually. With one such telescope, images of celestial objects as faint as magnitude 30 can be obtained in a one-hour exposure. This corresponds to seeing objects that are four billion (four thousand million) times fainter than what can be seen with the unaided eye.

The large telescopes are named Antu, Kueyen, Melipal and Yepun. For more information about the meaning of these names, click here.

The VLT has made an undisputed impact on observational astronomy. It is the most productive individual ground-based facility, and results from the VLT have led to the publication of an average of more than one peer-reviewed scientific paper per day. VLT contributes greatly to making ESO the most productive ground-based observatory in the world. The VLT has stimulated a new age of discoveries, with several notable scientific firsts, including the first image of an extrasolar planet (eso0428), tracking individual stars moving around the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way (eso0846), and observing the afterglow of the furthest known Gamma-Ray Burst.

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

The VLT in Action

The ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) during observations. In this picture, taken from the VLT platform looking north-northwest at twilight, the four 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes (UTs) are visible. From left to right, Antu, Kueyen, Melipal and Yepun, the Mapuche names for the VLT’s giant telescopes. In front of the UTs are the four 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes (ATs), entirely dedicated to interferometry, a technique which allows astronomers to see details up to 25 times finer than with the individual telescopes. The configuration of the ATs can be changed by moving them across the platform between 30 different observing positions. One of these positions is visible in the foreground, covered by a hexagonal pad. A reddish laser beam is being launched from UT4 (Yepun) to create an artificial star at an altitude of 90 km in the Earth´s mesosphere. This Laser Guide Star (LGS) is part of the Adaptive Optics system, which allows astronomers to remove the effects of atmospheric turbulence, producing images almost as sharp as if the telescope were in space. The bluish compact group of stars visible to the right of the laser beam is the Pleiades open cluster.

Credit: ESO/S. Brunier

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)

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

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Astronomer’s Paradise

by Christoph Malin
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Nightsky at Cerro Paranal en Chile. Absolutely breathtaking