Picture of the Week

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potw1423-en-au — Picture of the Week
Sunrise over the VLT
9 June 2014: This image shows the beginning of sunrise over the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at ESO's Paranal Observatory in Chile. In this photo, one of the VLT's Unit Telescopes is visible to the bottom right, illuminated by moonlight. Further in the distance there are two Auxiliary Telescopes pointing upwards. The VLT is formed of four 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes (UTs), and four movable 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes (ATs). The telescopes can work together to form a giant interferometer: the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI). The light collected by each of these telescopes is combined by the VLTI using a complex system of mirrors in underground tunnels, allowing astronomers to see details up to 16 times finer than with the individual UTs alone. The image was taken by Nicolas Blind, an astronomer who visited Paranal Observatory for a few days in December 2012. Blind may only have been at the observatory for a short ...
potw1422-en-au — Picture of the Week
Cloaked in Stars
2 June 2014: Framed by the glow of the Moon setting, the fourth Unit Telescope (UT4) of ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Paranal Observatory is enveloped by the sky it studies night after night. Located high on Cerro Paranal, the majestic machine sits gracefully at an altitude of 2635 metres above sea level. Paranal is the world's most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and ESO’s flagship facility, containing a suite of telescopes. UT4, otherwise known as Yepun (Venus), is one of the four Unit Telescopes that comprise the VLT, also working with their four Auxiliary Telescope companions to form the super-sensitive Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI). Housed within a thermally controlled building, UT4 uses its incredibly precise 8.2-metre mirror to scan the stars and unravel the mysteries of the Universe. The other three Unit Telescopes are known as Antu (Sun), Kueyen (Moon), and Melipal (Southern Cross), from the language of the Mapuche people ...
potw1421-en-au — Picture of the Week
A Stream of Stars over Paranal
26 May 2014: The sky over Paranal Observatory in northern Chile is a real treat for ESO's Photo Ambassadors, who are constantly experimenting with new techniques to obtain even more striking views of the unique, arid landscape and state-of-the-art facilities. On this occasion, Gianluca Lombardi has combined many long-exposure images to get this stunning result — the Very Large Telescope (VLT) and its Auxiliary Telescopes, their motion appearing as blurred flickers beneath a stream of stars, while the apparent motion of the stars across the sky has left smeared trails that are captured on camera as the Earth rotates. The VLT is ESO's flagship facility. It is of the most productive telescopes in the world, and the most advanced optical instrument ever made.
potw1420-en-au — Picture of the Week
Big and Bigger
19 May 2014: A small crowd gathers by the telescopes to see the night in at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. For most, sunset marks the end of a working day — a time for rest. But not here; nighttime is when the real work is done, with a clear night’s sky as the workplace. The crowd looks tiny, dwarfed by the telescopes to their left. These domes house the four 1.8-metre-diameter Auxiliary Telescopes that are part of the Very Large Telescope array (VLT). But the real giant of the picture is at the far left; if the Auxiliary Telescopes make the crowd look small, then the VLT Unit Telescope makes them look like ants. The VLT has four 8.2-metre telescopes like this, some of the largest telescopes on the planet. But if you think that’s big, wait for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), set for first light in the early 2020s. ...
potw1419-en-au — Picture of the Week
Star Trails over Atacama Desert Cacti
12 May 2014: This gorgeous photograph, taken in the Atacama Desert in Chile, shows star trails circling the South Celestial Pole, over a cacti-dominated still landscape. The star trails show the apparent path of the stars in the sky as the Earth slowly rotates, and are captured by taking long-exposure shots. A final deeper exposure was superimposed over the magnificent trails, revealing many more, fainter stars and, just rising above the horizon, the southern Milky Way, with its patches of dark dust and the well-known pinkish glow of the Carina Nebula. Towards the right, the satellite galaxies of the Milky Way, the Large (top-centre) and Small (bottom-right) Magellanic Clouds, can also be seen.
potw1418-en-au — Picture of the Week
Planets Align Over La Silla
5 May 2014: The Sun sets over La Silla, one of ESO's observing sites in Chile, creating a fiery orange glow along the horizon. This image, taken by David Jones, shows the alignment of three planets over the summit of ESO's telescopes in June 2013. Here the trio visible to the left of centre is composed of Jupiter (bottom left, almost invisible in orange sunset), Venus (centre), and Mercury (top right) — see labelled image. Alignments like this happen only once every several years, so it is a real treat for photographers and astronomers. When three (or more) celestial objects align like this in the sky, it is called a "syzygy". Check this syzygy image, showing almost the same scene (also from May 2013). "This image was taken during a five-night observing run with the 3.6-metre New Technology Telescope on La Silla, so I was very fortunate to be awarded observing time at ...
potw1417-en-au — Picture of the Week
Llamas at La Silla
28 April 2014: This image shows an ancient sun-scorched boulder near ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile, on the outskirts of this desert at a height of some 2400 metres above sea level. Visible on the boulder are several petroglyphs — rock engravings — depicting men and llamas. Llamas have historically been very important to South American cultures, being used as both a source of food and wool, and also as a pack animal for carrying goods across the land. The importance of llamas was reflected in the beliefs of the pre-Columbian people who inhabited the region — the Inca herders worshipped a multicoloured llama deity by the name of Urcuchillay, who was said to watch over the animals. The name Urcuchillay was also given to the constellation of Lyra (The Lyre) by the ancient Inca astronomers. The llama is honoured yet again in the Inca constellations. These constellations were formed from dark ...
potw1416-en-au — Picture of the Week
Beasts of burden
21 April 2014: Many hands make light work, as the old saying goes, although perhaps in this case the phrase "many wheels make light work" is more appropriate. Pictured here is Otto, one of the two ALMA Transporters along with its companion Lore. Otto and Lore were responsible for carrying the ALMA antennas up to the Chajnantor Plateau, a site some 5000 metres above sea level in northern Chile. After placing the antennas, the two trucks have the additional task of repositioning them according to the scientists' requirements. Otto can be seen in action in this video. These two powerful beasts are the ultimate in custom vehicles. They were designed specifically for ESO by the German vehicle manufacturer Scheuerle Fahrzeugfabrik, who have an impressive history of transporting heavy loads like the Antares rocket and an oil platform weighing in at a staggering 15 000 tonnes! The transporters are identical except for the colour ...
potw1415-en-au — Picture of the Week
La Silla Poses for an Ultra HD Shoot
14 April 2014: 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 [1]. 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 ...
potw1414-en-au — Picture of the Week
Cosmic Fireball Falling Over ALMA
7 April 2014: This beautiful new image, taken during a time-lapse set at the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is another dramatic Ultra High Definition photograph from the ESO Ultra HD Expedition. ALMA, located at 5000 metres above sea level on the remote and empty Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes, marks the second destination for the four ESO Photo Ambassadors [1] on their 17-day trip. The ambassadors are equipped with state-of-the-art Ultra HD tools to help them capture the true majesty of sights like the one pictured here [2] [3]. Some of the 66 high-precision antennas that comprise ALMA are visible here, with dishes pointed aloft, studying the cold clouds in interstellar space, and peering deep into the past at our mysterious cosmic origins. The spectacular javelin of light over the ALMA array is a shooting star, slicing through the image in a vivid streak of colours. Emerald green, golden and faint ...
potw1412-en-au — Picture of the Week
Framing the Night Sky
24 March 2014: ESO's observatories are privileged spots where astrophotographers can catch amazing views of the cosmos. But that's not all — sometimes, they are ideal locations from which to capture otherworldly images of our own planet, too. In this shot, ESO photo ambassador Gabriel Brammer has used a fish-eye lens to create this spectacular round effect. The clear sky over Paranal looks like a glass ball full of stars, with the Very Large Telescope (VLT) platform framing the picture. In the bottom left the four VLT Unit Telescopes, each some 25 metres tall, are observing the night sky, one of them pointing its laser up into the night. Scattered around the top left of the frame, the round domes of the VLT Auxiliary Telescopes are easily spotted under the bright Milky Way. The two blurry smudges just above the laser are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, two of the closest galaxies ...
potw1411-en-au — Picture of the Week
A Milky Arc Over Paranal
17 March 2014: Another clear night at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile — perfect for sitting back and taking in the sight of our galaxy, the Milky Way. Many of us living in living in crowded, light-polluted cities no longer get to see our cosmic home in such detail. We now know this stunning view to be our home galaxy, but the Ancient Greeks thought that it was the work of the Gods. Their legends told that this cloudy streak across the sky was really the breast milk of Hera, wife of Zeus. The Ancient Greeks are also to thank for the name “Milky Way”. The Hellenistic phrase Γαλαξίας κύκλος, pronounced galaxias kyklos, means “milky circle”, and provides the root for our modern name. This 360 degree panorama image was taken by ESO Photo Ambassador Gabriel Brammer. An astronomer visiting Paranal can be seen standing towards the right hand side of this image ...
potw1410-en-au — Picture of the Week
Rosetta’s Comet is Waking Up
10 March 2014: On 20 January 2014, ESA's Rosetta spacecraft emerged from a long deep-space hibernation to approach its target — comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P/CG). From our vantage point on Earth, comet 67P/CG has only just reappeared from behind the Sun. On 28 February 2014 ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) directed its gaze towards the comet as soon as it became visible from ESO's Paranal Observatory in Chile. ESO is collaborating with ESA to monitor the comet from the ground as it is approached by Rosetta over the coming months. These observations will prepare for the spacecraft's major rendezvous with the comet, planned for August of this year (see potw1403a). This new image, and many more to come, will be used by ESA to refine Rosetta's navigation, and to monitor how much dust the comet is releasing. The image on the left was created by stacking the individual exposures to show the background stars ...
potw1409-en-au — Picture of the Week
ALMA Workers Rescue Abandoned Vicuña Fawn
3 March 2014: High on the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes lies the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an observatory surrounded by large expanses of dry landscape. Perhaps surprisingly, the region is home to a number of different wildlife species, many of which occasionally pop up near to the observatory. Further south, ESO’s La Silla Observatory recently had visits from a South American grey fox (potw1406a), and wild horses (potw1344a). The most recent cute visitor to ALMA is this vicuña fawn, found on 16 February 2014 by ALMA workers. The fawn was only a few weeks old, weakened after it was chased by foxes until it lost sight of its herd. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts the following day to return the fawn to its herd, the workers transferred it to the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center at the Universidad de Antofagasta, where it is being treated so that it can ...
potw1408-en-au — Picture of the Week
The Curves of ESO’s Headquarters
24 February 2014: Bereft of colour in this striking infrared image, the sweeping curves of ESO's Headquarters clash with the frosty natural beauty of the surrounding trees. The extreme curvature visible in this image is due to the photographer's use of a fisheye lens, which distorts the view and causes the building to encircle the pale foliage and frame the sky above. The foliage appears to be bright as it reflects the infrared light, and the pale white hue comes from the photographer applying a white colour balance to the tree leaves. The precise curves of concrete, glass, and steel give clues as to the Headquarters building's peculiar structure. In 1981 an article in ESO's The Messenger described the ESO building as "a labyrinth of the kind used to test the intelligence of rats". But, fortunately for ESO, the writer soon noted that "human beings are on average cleverer than rats, and the ...
potw1407-en-au — Picture of the Week
VST Snaps Gaia en Route to a Billion Stars
17 February 2014: These new images from ESO's Very Large Telescope Survey Telescope (VST) show ESA's Gaia spacecraft in its position some 1.5 million kilometres beyond Earth's orbit. Launched on the morning of Thursday, 19 December 2013, the satellite is on a quest to build a 3D map of our galaxy over the next five years. Mapping the sky has been one of humanity's quests since the dawn of time, and Gaia will take our understanding of our stellar neighbourhood to a whole new level. It will measure very precisely the positions and motions of about one billion stars in our galaxy, to explore the Milky Way's composition, formation and evolution. These new observations are the result of a close collaboration between ESA and ESO to monitor the spacecraft from the ground. Gaia is the most accurate astrometric device ever built, but in order for its observations to be useful it needs to ...
potw1406-en-au — Picture of the Week
Fantastic Mr Fox
10 February 2014: Perched precariously on the edge of the habitable world, life manages to cling on. On the outskirts of the hot, dry Atacama Desert, this hardy South American grey fox has just awoken, stretching leisurely. These foxes are generally active during the night, making the most of the drop in temperature that comes with a respite from the hot Chilean Sun. In the background there are other signs of life. This white dome houses the Swiss 1.2-metre Leonhard Euler Telescope, which is protected from the harsh conditions by its outer shell. As the skies grow darker at ESO’s La Silla Observatory another famously nocturnal species, the astronomer, wakes up, stretches, and gets ready to scan the skies with buzzing and whirring technology. This image was taken by ESO Photo Ambassador Malte Tewes and submitted to the Your ESO Pictures Flickr group. The Flickr group is regularly reviewed and the best photos ...
potw1405a-en-au — Picture of the Week
Antarctic Air Visits Paranal
3 February 2014: This beautiful panorama of ESO's Paranal Observatory was taken on 5 July 2012, and marks one of the driest days ever recorded at the Very Large Telescope complex. Paranal sits like an island in the middle of the frame, with massive cloud banks floating below, over the distant Pacific Ocean. The extremely low humidity at Paranal during this period was recorded by a water vapour radiometer known as LHATPRO, which monitors the atmosphere to support the observations carried out at the observatory [1]. Meteorologists from two Chilean universities identified the cause for these unusually dry conditions: high-altitude Antarctic air moving far to the north, and descending over Paranal. This cold front lingered around Paranal for over 12 hours, causing a record-low level of humidity in the air above the observatory [2]. Florian Kerber (ESO) and colleagues analysed this unusual weather, publishing the results in a paper in the Monthly Notices ...
potw1404-en-au — Picture of the Week
Swimming Pool Interferometry
27 January 2014: Astronomers do not always swim at the swimming pool at the Paranal Observatory Residencia, but when they do, they like to show how physical principles work. In this picture the French ESO astronomer Jean-Baptiste Le Bouquin is demonstrating how waves — not light waves, but water waves — can combine, or interfere, to create larger waves. The combination of light waves is the main principle behind the VLT Interferometer: the light waves captured by each one of the four 8-metre telescopes are combined using a network of channels and mirrors. This way the spatial resolution of the telescope is vastly increased and, with enough exposure time, the cameras and instruments can reveal the same level of detail as a telescope with a 130-metre diameter mirror could, far bigger than any telescope in existence. This image was taken by award-winning editorial and commercial photographer Max Alexander. See also Tribute to ESO’s ...
potw1403-en-au — Picture of the Week
Rosetta's Comet
20 January 2014: ESA's Rosetta spacecraft will wake up today, 20 January, after 31 months in deep space hibernation, to finally close in on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P/CG). This image shows the most recent observations of the 4-kilometre diameter comet, taken on 5 October 2013 by ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) when the comet was around 500 million kilometres away — before it passed behind the Sun and out of view from Earth's perspective. For this image, a long series of observations was processed to reveal both the comet without the background stars (on the left panel), and the star field with the track of the comet marked (on the right). Viewed against a crowded star field towards the centre of the Milky Way, the comet was still so far from the Sun that the icy nucleus was not releasing any gas or dust, and appears as a simple spot. As it approaches the ...
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