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Galaxy Over the Dome by Neil Creek
Via Flickr:
A 380 megapixel panorama of the Milky Way Galaxy rising over the dome at Mount Burnett Observatory. I was there late one night recently, shooting the stars, when my telescope battery died. So I thought I’d try and capture an image I’ve had in my head for a while. This took me all day to process!

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VISTA Peeks Through the Small Magellanic Cloud’s Dusty Veil

The Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy is a striking feature of the southern sky even to the unaided eye. But visible-light telescopes cannot get a really clear view of what is in the galaxy because of obscuring clouds of interstellar dust. VISTA’s infrared capabilities have now allowed astronomers to see the myriad of stars in this neighbouring galaxy much more clearly than ever before. The result is this record-breaking image — the biggest infrared image ever taken of the Small Magellanic Cloud — with the whole frame filled with millions of stars.

The Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) is a dwarf galaxy, the more petite twin of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). They are two of our closest galaxy neighbours in space — the SMC lies about 200 000 light-years away, just a twelfth of the distance to the more famous Andromeda Galaxy. Both are also rather peculiarly shaped, as a result of interactions with one another and with the Milky Way itself.

Their relative proximity to Earth makes the Magellanic Clouds ideal candidates for studying how stars form and evolve. However, while the distribution and history of star formation in these dwarf galaxies were known to be complex, one of the biggest obstacles to obtaining clear observations of star formation in galaxies is interstellar dust. Enormous clouds of these tiny grains scatter and absorb some of the radiation emitted from the stars — especially visible light — limiting what can be seen by telescopes here on Earth. This is known as dust extinction.
The SMC is full of dust, and the visible light emitted by its stars suffers significant extinction. Fortunately, not all electromagnetic radiation is equally affected by dust. Infrared radiation passes through interstellar dust much more easily than visible light, so by looking at the infrared light from a galaxy we can learn about the new stars forming within the clouds of dust and gas.

VISTA, the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope, was designed to image infrared radiation. The VISTA Survey of the Magellanic Clouds (VMC) is focused on mapping the star formation history of the SMC and LMC, as well as mapping their three-dimensional structures. Millions of SMC stars have been imaged in the infrared thanks to the VMC, providing an unparalleled view almost unaffected by dust extinction.

The whole frame of this massive image is filled with stars belonging to the Small Magellanic Cloud. It also includes thousands of background galaxies and several bright star clusters, including 47 Tucanae at the right of the picture, which lies much closer to the Earth than the SMC. The zoomable image will show you the SMC as you have never seen it before!
The wealth of new information in this 1.6 gigapixel image (43 223 x 38 236 pixels) has been analysed by an international team led by Stefano Rubele of the University of Padova. They have used cutting-edge stellar models to yield some surprising results.

The VMC has revealed that most of the stars within the SMC formed far more recently than those in larger neighbouring galaxies. This early result from the survey is just a taster of the new discoveries still to come, as the survey continues to fill in blind spots in our maps of the Magellanic Clouds.

TOP IMAGE….The Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) galaxy is a striking feature of the southern sky even to the unaided eye. But visible-light telescopes cannot get a really clear view of what is in the galaxy because of obscuring clouds of interstellar dust. VISTA’s infrared capabilities have now allowed astronomers to see the myriad of stars in this neighbouring galaxy much more clearly than ever before. The result is this record-breaking image — the biggest infrared image ever taken of the Small Magellanic Cloud — with the whole frame filled with millions of stars.
As well as the SMC itself this very wide-field image reveals many background galaxies and several star clusters, including the very bright 47 Tucanae globular cluster at the right of the picture.
Credit: ESO/VISTA VMC


CENTRE IMAGE….These cutout images show a few of the highlights from a huge new infrared image of our neighbouring galaxy, the Small Magellanic Cloud, that was taken with the VISTA telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory. The lower-right panel shows the bright globular star cluster 47 Tucanae, which lies much closer to the Earth than the Small Magellanic Cloud.
Credit: ESO/VISTA VMC


LOWER IMAGE….This chart shows the faint southern constellation of Tucana (The Toucan), home to the small nearby galaxy called the Small Magellanic Cloud (shown in green). This picture shows the stars that can be seen with the unaided eye on a dark clear night. The galaxy itself is also easily viewed without a telescope as a faint patch of light looking very like a small cloud. Nearby are the two bright globular star clusters NGC 104 (also known as 47 Tucanae) and NGC 362, both of which are much closer to Earth than the cloud itself and unrelated to it. Credit: ESO, IAU and Sky & Telescope

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Four Lasers Over Paranal

First light for the Four Laser Guide Star Facility on ESO’s Very Large Telescope


On 26 April 2016 ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile hosted an event to mark the first light for the four powerful lasers that form a crucial part of the adaptive optics systems on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Attendees were treated to a spectacular display of cutting-edge laser technology against the majestic skies of Paranal. These are the most powerful laser guide stars ever used for astronomy and the event marks the first use of multiple laser guide stars at ESO.

ESO staff were present for the event, along with senior representatives of the companies that have manufactured the different components of the new system.

The Four Laser Guide Star Facility (4LGSF) shines four 22-watt laser beams into the sky to create artificial guide stars by making sodium atoms in the upper atmosphere glow so that they look just like real stars [1]. The artificial stars allow the adaptive optics systems to compensate for the blurring caused by the Earth’s atmosphere and so that the telescope can create sharp images. Using more than one laser allows the turbulence in the atmosphere to be mapped in far greater detail to significantly improve the image quality over a larger field of view.

The Four Laser Guide Star Facility is an example of how ESO enables European industry to lead complex research and development projects. The fibre laser used by the 4LGSF is also one of the most successful transfers of ESO technology to industry.

TOPTICA, the German main contractor, was responsible for the laser system and provided the oscillator, the frequency doubler, and the system control software. Wilhelm Kaenders, president of TOPTICA, said: “TOPTICA has enjoyed the collaboration with ESO tremendously. It is not only the personal thrill of being engaged with astronomy, an old passion, again, and working with very clever ESO technologists; it is also the inspiration that we have received for our own commercial product development.” [2]

MPBC of Canada provided the fibre laser pumps and Raman amplifiers, which are based on an ESO licensed patent. Jane Bachynski, President of MPB Communications Inc. said: “MPBC is proud to have worked with ESO in the development of Raman fibre amplifiers to much higher powers, allowing MPBC to bring this technology to the stars. This event marks the culmination of many years of hard work on behalf of all involved.” [3]

TNO in the Netherlands manufactured the optical tube assemblies, which expand the laser beams and direct them into the sky. Paul de Krom, CEO of TNO, said: “TNO valued the cooperative working environment during the development of the optical tube assemblies and looks forward to the opportunity to work with ESO and the other partners in the 4LGSF project in the future.” [4]

The 4LGSF is part of the Adaptive Optics Facility on Unit Telescope 4 of the VLT, designed specifically to provide the adaptive optics systems GALACSI/MUSE and GRAAL/HAWK-I with four sodium laser guide stars. With this new facility, Paranal Observatory continues to have the most advanced and the largest number of adaptive optics systems in operation today.

The 4LGSF lasers were developed by ESO with industry and have already been procured, among others, by the Keck Observatory (which contributed to the industrial laser development cost along with the European Commission) and the Subaru Telescope. In the future these industrial lasers will also feature on the telescopes at the Gemini Observatory and will be the preferred choice for several other observatories and extremely large telescope projects.

The new techniques developed for the Four Laser Guide Star Facility pave the way for the adaptive optics system of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), the world’s biggest eye on the sky.

Notes


[1] The 4LGSF is the second generation laser guide star facility, built by ESO for the Adaptive Optics Facility on the UT4 VLT telescope. The two critical long-lead items for the 4LGSF, the laser system and the optical tube assemblies for the laser launch telescope systems have been procured from industry. The fibre Raman laser technology, on which the 4LGSF laser system is based, has been developed at ESO, patented and licensed to industry.


[2] This project has allowed TOPTICA to extend its products into a new wavelength and output power regime. It now produces the SodiumStar 20/2, which is recognised as a quasi-standard for existing and planned telescopes around the world. All next generation extremely large telescope projects, for example, use the SodiumStar laser as their baseline. During the seven years of collaboration with ESO the company has grown from 80 people to more than 200 today.


[3] MPBC’s collaboration with ESO has also generated an additional benefit, in the form of an offshoot product line of single frequency amplification products at virtually any wavelength, supporting novel applications for the scientific and commercial research community.


[4] The developments by TNO also involved contributions from many suppliers from the Netherlands (Vernooy, Vacutech, Rovasta, Schott Benelux, Maxon Motor Benelux, IPS technology, Sensordata and WestEnd) and other international companies (RMI, Qioptiq, Laser Components, Carl Zeiss, GLP, Faes, Farnell, Eriks and Pfeiffer). The knowledge and technologies advanced by working with ESO feed into TNO’s Dutch and European partners, in fields including astronomy, communications, semiconductor manufacturing, medical devices, space science and Earth observation.

More information

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. 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 two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

Stars and Dust in Corona Australis: Cosmic dust clouds and young, energetic stars inhabit this telescopic vista, less than 500 light-years away toward the northern boundary of Corona Australis, the Southern Crown. The dust clouds effectively block light from more distant background stars in the Milky Way. But the striking complex of reflection nebulae cataloged as NGC 6726, 6727, and IC 4812 produce a characteristic blue color as light from the regions young hot stars is reflected by the cosmic dust. The dust also obscures from view stars still in the process of formation. At the left, smaller yellowish nebula NGC 6729 bends around young variable star R Coronae Australis. Just below it, glowing arcs and loops shocked by outflows from embedded newborn stars are identified as Herbig-Haro objects. On the sky this field of view spans about 1 degree. That corresponds to almost 9 light-years at the estimated distance of the nearby star forming region. via NASA

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The Lobster Nebula seen with ESO’s VISTA telescope

This image from ESO’s VISTA telescope captures a celestial landscape of vast, glowing clouds of gas and tendrils of dust surrounding hot young stars. This infrared view reveals the stellar nursery known as NGC 6357 in a new light. It was taken as part of the VISTA Variables in the Vía Láctea (VVV) survey, which is currently scanning the Milky Way in a bid to map our galaxy’s structure and explain how it formed.

Credit: ESO/VVV Survey/D. Minniti. Acknowledgement: Ignacio Toledo

Cosmic dust clouds and young, energetic stars inhabit this telescopic vista, less than 500 light-years away toward the northern boundary of Corona Australis, the Southern Crown. The dust clouds effectively block light from more distant background stars in the Milky Way. But the striking complex of reflection nebulae cataloged as NGC 6726, 6727, and IC 4812 produce a characteristic blue color as light from the region’s young hot stars is reflected by the cosmic dust. The dust also obscures from view stars still in the process of formation. At the left, smaller yellowish nebula NGC 6729 bends around young variable star R Coronae Australis. Just below it, glowing arcs and loops shocked by outflows from embedded newborn stars are identified as Herbig-Haro objects. On the sky this field of view spans about 1 degree. That corresponds to almost 9 light-years at the estimated distance of the nearby star forming region.

Image Credit & Copyright: CHART32 Team, Processing - Johannes Schedler

I shared the Cat’s Paw Nebula (NGC 6334) several months ago but wanted to share this incredible infrared version taken by the VISTA telescope.

Cat’s Paw is a vast region of star formation about 5500 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Scorpius. The whole gas cloud is about 50 light-years across. It is one of the most active nurseries of young massive stars in our galaxy, some nearly ten times the mass of our Sun and most born in the last few million years.

 (Credit: ESO Astronomy/J. Emerson/VISTA Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit)

The Lobster Nebula seen with ESO’s VISTA telescope

This image from ESO’s VISTA telescope captures a celestial landscape of vast, glowing clouds of gas and tendrils of dust surrounding hot young stars. This infrared view reveals the stellar nursery known as NGC 6357 in a new light. It was taken as part of the VISTA Variables in the Vía Láctea (VVV) survey, which is currently scanning the Milky Way in a bid to map our galaxy’s structure and explain how it formed.

Credit: ESO/VVV Survey/D. Minniti. Acknowledgement: Ignacio Toledo