Press Releases 2001

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eso0123-en-au — Photo Release
Aurorae and Volcanic Eruptions
7 June 2001: Impressive thermal-infrared images have been obtained of the giant planet Jupiter during tests of a new detector in the ISAAC instrument on the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the Paranal Observatory (Chile). They show in particular the full extent of the northern auroral ring and part of the southern aurora. A volcanic eruption was also imaged on Io, the very active inner Jovian moon. Although these observations are of an experimental nature, they demonstrate a great potential for regular monitoring of the Jovian magnetosphere by ground-based telescopes together with space-based facilities. They also provide the added benefit of direct comparison with the terrestrial magnetosphere.
eso0122-en-au — Science Release
A Hungry Quasar Caught in the Act
31 May 2001: A new image of a distant quasar (the luminous core of an "active" galaxy) shows that it is engaged in a gravitational battle with its neighbouring galaxies. It also provides information on how supermassive black holes present in the center of quasars are fed. Using the FORS2 multi-mode instrument at the ESO 8.2-metre VLT KUEYEN telescope on Paranal (Chile), a team of German astronomers [1] obtained a spectacular image of the close and complex environment of the distant quasar "HE 1013-2136", located some 10 billion light-years away [2]. The remarkable structures revealed in this photo lend support to the hypothesis that quasar activity is connected to gravitational interaction between galaxies, already at this early epoch of the Universe (about 5 billion years after the Big Bang).
eso0121-en-au — Organisation Release
Leading European Research Organisations Join Forces in EIROFORUM
21 May 2001: Since the early 1950s, a number of powerful research infrastructures and laboratories which are used by an extensive network of scientists have been developed and deployed within Europe by European Intergovernmental Research Organisations (EIRO). Together, they represent European spearheads in some of the most crucial basic and applied research fields. Seven of these organisations have set up a co-ordination and collaboration group (EIROFORUM) with their top executives (Directors General or equivalent) as members. They include CERN (particle physics), EMBL (molecular biology), ESA (space activities), ESO (astronomy and astrophysics), ESRF (synchrotron radiation), ILL (neutron source) and EFDA (fusion).
eso0120-en-au — Science Release
A Glimpse of the Very Early Universal Web
18 May 2001: New, trailblazing observations with the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Paranal lend strong support to current computer models of the early universe: It is "spongy", with galaxies forming along filaments, like droplets along the strands of a spiders web. A group of astronomers at ESO and in Denmark [1] determined the distances to some very faint galaxies in the neighbourhood of a distant quasar. Plotting their positions in a three-dimensional map, they found that these objects are located within a narrow "filament", exactly as predicted by the present theories for the development of the first structures in the young universe. The objects are most likely "building blocks" from which galaxies and clusters of galaxies assemble.
eso0119-en-au — Photo Release
Comet LINEAR Splits Further
18 May 2001: New images from the VLT show that one of the two nuclei of Comet LINEAR (C/2001 A2), now about 100 million km from the Earth, has just split into at least two pieces. The three fragments are now moving through space in nearly parallel orbits while they slowly drift apart. This comet will pass through its perihelion (nearest point to the Sun) on May 25, 2001, at a distance of about 116 million kilometres. It has brightened considerably due to the splitting of its "dirty snowball" nucleus and can now be seen with the unaided eye by observers in the southern hemisphere as a faint object in the southern constellation of Lepus (The Hare).
eso0118-en-au — Science Release
The Harsh Destiny of a Planet?
9 May 2001: Did the star HD 82943 swallow one of its planets? What may at a first glance look like the recipe for a dramatic science-fiction story is in fact the well-considered conclusion of a serious scientific study, to be published by a group of astronomers in Switzerland and Spain [1] in tomorrow's issue of the international research journal "Nature".
eso0117-en-au — Science Release
VLT Spectra "Resolve" a Stellar Disk at 25,000 Light-Years Distance
25 April 2001: Using the FORS1 multi-mode instrument at the 8.2-metre VLT ANTU telescope on Paranal during a microlensing event, the team was able to obtain detailed spectra of the different parts of the remote star. In doing so, they managed to probe its gaseous atmosphere at different depths. This is the first time that it has been possible to obtain detailed, spatially resolved spectra across the full face of a normal star other than the Sun [4].
eso0116-en-au — Photo Release
The Capodimonte Deep Field
10 April 2001: The Osservatorio Astronomico Capodimonte Deep Field (OACDF) is a multi-colour imaging survey project that is opening a new window towards the distant universe. It is conducted with the ESO Wide Field Imager (WFI) , a 67-million pixel advanced camera attached to the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory (Chile). As a pilot project at the Osservatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte (OAC) [1], the OACDF aims at providing a large photometric database for deep extragalactic studies, with important by-products for galactic and planetary research. Moreover, it also serves to gather experience in the proper and efficient handling of very large data sets, preparing for the arrival of the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) with the 1 x 1 degree 2 OmegaCam facility.
eso0115-en-au — Organisation Release
Europe, Japan and North America Prepare for Joint Construction of the Giant Radio Telescope "ALMA" in Chile
6 April 2001: Representatives from Europe, Japan, and North America met in Tokyo today and signed a Resolution affirming their mutual intent to construct and operate a giant radio telescope in co-operation with the Republic of Chile, where the telescope will be located.
eso0114-en-au — Science Release
Exoplanets: The Hunt Continues!
4 April 2001: The intensive and exciting hunt for planets around other stars ("exoplanets") is continuing with great success in both hemispheres. Today, an international team of astronomers from the Geneva Observatory and other research institutes [1] is announcing the discovery of no less than eleven new, planetary companions to solar-type stars, HD 8574, HD 28185, HD 50554, HD 74156, HD 80606, HD 82943, HD 106252, HD 141937, HD 178911B, HD 141937, among which two new multi-planet systems. The masses of these new objects range from slightly less than to about 10 times the mass of the planet Jupiter [2]. The new detections are based on measured velocity changes of the stars [3], performed with the CORALIE spectrometer on the Swiss 1.2-metre Leonard Euler telescope at the ESO La Silla Observatory, as well as with instruments on telescopes at the Haute-Provence Observatory and on the Keck telescopes on Mauna Kea (Hawaii, USA).
eso0113-en-au — Photo Release
TIMMI2 Images the Heart of the Orion Nebula
30 March 2001: A new astronomical instrument, TIMMI2, has just been installed on the ESO 3.6-metre telescope at La Silla. The first images have just been obtained and hold great promise for future research programmes with this facility. The Thermal Infrared MultiMode Instrument was built in a collaboration between ESO and a consortium headed by the Jena University Observatory (Germany). It detects infrared radiation in the 5-24 µm mid-IR spectral region. It is particularly well suited for observations of the complex processes that take place in the innermost regions of star-forming clouds. It is also a forerunner of a similar, but even more powerful instrument to be installed at the 8.2-metre VLT telescopes on Paranal during the next years. Among the first images are some of the most penetrating, mid-infrared views ever obtained of the central region of the Orion Nebula.
eso0112-en-au — Organisation Release
A High-Tech Oasis in the Desert
23 March 2001: For hundreds of years, probably even longer, astronomers have sought the solitude, far from the disturbing influence of other human activities. Not without reason, their remote observatories have sometimes been likened with monasteries, sacred sites where man is closer to the skies and himself.
eso0111-en-au — Organisation Release
"First Light" for the VLT Interferometer
18 March 2001: Following the "First Light" for the fourth of the 8.2-metre telescopes of the VLT Observatory on Paranal in September 2000, ESO scientists and engineers have just successfully accomplished the next major step of this large project.
eso0110-en-au — Science Release
Chandra and the VLT Jointly Investigate the Cosmic X-Ray Background
13 March 2001: Important scientific advances often happen when complementary investigational techniques are brought together. In the present case, X-ray and optical/infrared observations with some of the world's foremost telescopes have provided the crucial information needed to solve a 40-year old cosmological riddle.
eso0109-en-au — Science Release
A Supermassive Black Hole in a Nearby Galaxy
8 March 2001: The nearby galaxy Centaurus A harbours a supermassive black hole at its centre. Using the ISAAC instrument at the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT), an international team of astronomers [1] has peered right through the spectacular dust lane of the peculiar galaxy Centaurus A, located approximately 11 million light-years away. They were able to probe the thin disk of gas that surrounds the very center of this galaxy. The new measurements show that the compact nucleus in the middle weighs more than 200 million solar masses! This is too much just to be due to normal stars. The astronomers thus conclude the existence of a supermassive black hole lurking at the centre of Centaurus A.
eso0108-en-au — Photo Release
Visiting with an Old and Active Friend
6 March 2001: ESO has released a new image of the famous comet Hale-Bopp, where the large nucleus of ice and dust is still seen glowing. This is very unusual since the comet is currently in a very cold place, between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus, almost 2000 million kilometres away from the Sun.
eso0107-en-au — Science Release
Ashes from the Elder Brethren
2 March 2001: Globular clusters are very massive assemblies of stars. More than 100 are known in the Milky Way galaxy and most of them harbour several million stars. They are very dense - at their centers, the typical distance between individual stars is comparable to the size of the Solar System, or 100 to 1000 times closer than the corresponding distances between stars in the solar neighborhood. Globular clusters are among the oldest objects known , with estimated ages of 11 to 15 billion years [1]. All stars in a globular cluster were formed at nearly the same moment, and from the same parent cloud of gas and dust. The original chemical composition of all stars is therefore the same. But now, an international group of astronomers [2], working with the UVES Spectrograph at the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT), have obtained some unexpected results during a detailed analysis of dwarf stars in some globular clusters . Such stars have about the same mass as our Sun and like it, they evolve very slowly. Thus they still ought to have about the same abundances of most chemical elements.
eso0106-en-au — Science Release
How Old is the Universe?
7 February 2001: Most astronomers would agree that the age of the Universe - the time elapsed since the "Big Bang" - is one of the "holy grails of cosmology". Despite great efforts during recent years, the various estimates of this basic number have resulted in rather diverse values. When derived from current cosmological models, it depends on a number of theoretical assumptions that are not very well constrained by the incomplete available observational data. At present, a value in the range of 10-16 billion years [1] is considered most likely. But now, an international team of astronomers [2] has used the powerful ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) and its very efficient spectrograph UVES to perform a unique measurement that paves the way for a new and more accurate determination of the age of the Universe. They measured for the first time the amount of the radioactive isotope Uranium-238 in a star that was born when the Milky Way, the galaxy in which we live, was still forming. It is the first measurement ever of uranium outside the Solar System.
eso0105-en-au — Organisation Release
New Paranal Views
26 January 2001: Last year saw very good progress at ESO's Paranal Observatory, the site of the Very Large Telescope (VLT). The third and fourth 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes, MELIPAL and YEPUN had "First Light," while the first two, ANTU and KUEYEN, were busy collecting first-class data for hundreds of astronomers. Meanwhile, work continued towards the next phase of the VLT project, the combination of the telescopes into the VLT Interferometer. The test instrument, VINCI is now being installed in the VLTI Laboratory at the centre of the observing platform on the top of Paranal.
eso0104-en-au — Photo Release
The Orion Nebula: The Jewel in the Sword
17 January 2001: Orion the Hunter is perhaps the best known constellation in the sky, well placed in the evening at this time of the year for observers in both the northern and southern hemispheres, and instantly recognisable. And for astronomers, Orion is surely one of the most important constellations, as it contains one of the nearest and most active stellar nurseries in the Milky Way, the galaxy in which we live.
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