Milky Way Meets Desert Sky by Babak Tafreshi

As seen on the National Geographic News our Milky Way galaxy gleams in all its splendor, as seen from La Silla observatory in the southern outskirts of the Atacama Desert, Chile.

The clear, high altitude dry desert air provides a perfect home for the La Silla, operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), where the 3.6-meter New Technology Telescope (NTT) makes its nightly rounds of the sky’s far reaches.

The telescope rests between the open doors in the photo. The Milky Way spans more than 100,000 light-years across, putting Earth in the cosmic suburbs, some 27,000 light-years away from the brightly glowing center of the galaxy, seen at the center of this image.

Visible to the left of the Milky Way is the bright orange star Antares at the heart of Scorpius (The Scorpion). Saturn can be seen as the brightest point to the upper left of Antares and Alpha and Beta Centauri glow in the upper right of the image. The Southern Cross (Crux) and the Coalsack dark nebula are also visible at the upper right corner.

La Silla Poses for an ultra HD shoot

A curtain of stars surrounds the 3.58-metre New Technology Telescope (NTT) in this new Ultra High Definition photograph from the ESO Ultra HD Expedition. It was captured on the first night of shooting at ESO’s La Silla Observatory, which sits at 2400 metres above sea level on the outskirts of the Chilean Atacama Desert.

The majestic telescope enclosure aligns perfectly with the Milky Way’s central region — the brightest section and the area which obscures the galactic centre. The distinctive octagonal enclosure that houses the NTT stands tall in this image — silhouetted against the glittering cosmos above and almost appearing to consume the Milky Way. This telescope housing was considered a technological breakthrough when completed in 1989.

Visible to the left of the Milky Way is the bright orange star Antares at the heart of Scorpius (The Scorpion). Saturn can be seen as the brightest point to the upper left of Antares and Alpha and Beta Centauri glow in the upper right of the image. The Southern Cross (Crux) and the Coalsack dark nebula are also visible looming above Alpha and Beta Centauri.

La Silla was ESO’s first observatory, inaugurated in 1969. The NTT pictured above was the first telescope in the world to have a computer-controlled main mirror and broke new ground for telescope engineering and design paving the way for ESO’s Very Large Telescope.

Image credit: ESO/B.Tafreshi

Keeping cool at La Silla by European Southern Observatory on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
This striking picture of the New Technology Telescope (NTT) was taken just after sunset at ESO’s La Silla Observatory, located in the Norte Chico in outskirts of the Chilean Atacama Desert. The Moon has already begun its journey across the evening sky, and is shining brightly overhead. The Sun dips below the horizon to the left of the frame, soaking the clouds in a rich orange colour.

The warm glow of the last rays of sunshine are caught by the reflective surface of the NTT walls. The purpose of this metallic dome is to stop the telescope’s enclosure from heating up during the day. This would affect the telescope’s observations, as rising warm air and turbulence blur images and worsen the astronomical seeing.

It is not just the telescope’s enclosure that is designed to reduce heat accumulation during the day; the concrete platforms and parking spaces around the site are all painted white to increase the amount of light reflected from their surface.

More information:

ESO/B. Tafreshi (

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Astronomy Photo of the Day: 3/8/15 — New Look at NGC 6300

Meet NGC 6300, a galactic gem that lurks around 50 million light-years from Earth in the constellation of Ara (the Altar). The image above, which was entered into Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing contest by Brian Campbell, is certainly one of the most detailed ever taken, with its delicate series of rings up front and center.

In a new image from the European Southern Observatory (ESO), NGC 6300 is explored in new light. Taken by the Faint Object Spectrograph and Camera (EFOSC2) situated aboard the 3.58-meter New Technology Telescope (NTT), it highlights the swirling spiral arms, and the vibrant central core of the galaxy, which is barred and spiral in nature.

Unlike many of its predecessors, this version clearly shows the bar that pervades the center of the galaxy and cuts it in half. It, however, gives one the impression that its merely a spiral galaxy, when it’s technically classified as a Seyfert II galaxy.

Within this group, we come across galaxies with exceptionally bright central cores. Only most of this light can’t be seen at the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, but in infrared and x-ray light—most of the radiation is spat out by the energetic supermassive black hole looming in its nucleus. It’s believed to be more than 300,000 times more massive than our own Sun is, as such, it dwarfs the Sun in x-ray emission as well.

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Image Credit: ESO/C. Snodgrass

Milky Way Shines over Snowy La Silla by European Southern Observatory on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
In the outskirts of the Atacama Desert, far from the light-polluted cities of northern Chile, the skies are pitch-black after sunset. Such dark skies allow some of the best astronomical observing to take place — and at an altitude of 2400 metres, ESO’s La Silla Observatory has an incredibly clear view of the night sky. However, even such a remote, high, and dry location cannot always escape the weather that sometimes comes with the winter months, when blankets of snow can cover the mountain peak and its telescope domes.

More information:

ESO/José Francisco Salgado (

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Telescopes and galaxy

A fulldome/fish-eye and a panorama view of La Silla Observatory showing a number of telescopes around the site, many used by ESO Member States for targeted projects.

In centre view is the Danish 1.54-metre telescope. Shown also are the 3.58-metre New Technology Telescope (NTT) and the ESO 3.6-metre telescope (at about 11 o'clock), as well as the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope (at about 12 o'clock).

The Milky Way is seen to stretch overhead in all its brilliance.

Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi

The NTT spinning like a top

This dynamic image shows the New Technology Telescope (NTT) located at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. The distinctively shaped enclosure of the telescope appears blurred by movement in the picture, as the telescope rotates to point at its desired target. The photo was taken with a 30-second exposure.

One of the first things you notice in this picture is that the telescope building has a peculiar angular shape on the outside, rather than the more common rounded dome design usually seen. Its design features have been much copied, including by ESO’s Very Large Telescope, but they were groundbreaking when the telescope was inaugurated in 1989.

The NTT’s revolutionary design targets optimal image quality, for instance, through carefully controlled ventilation, which optimises airflow across the NTT, minimising the blurring caused by air turbulence inside. Just visible in the blur of this image are the large flaps that form a key part of this system.

Another feature that was advanced at the time of its construction is the NTT’s mirror. While, at 3.58 metres in diameter, it was never considered particularly large, its design was highly innovative. The mirror is flexible, and can be adjusted in real time to maintain a perfect shape, so no flexing or sagging can harm the image quality. ESO and the NTT were pioneers in using this technology, called active optics, and it is now a standard feature of modern telescopes.

Image credit: ESO/M. Tewes