This image beautifully captures the zodiacal light, a triangular glow seen best in night skies free of overpowering moonlight and light pollution. The photograph was taken at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile in September 2009, facing west some minutes after the Sun had set. A sea of clouds has settled in the valley below La Silla, which sits at an altitude of 2400 metres, with lesser peaks and ridges poking through the mist.
The zodiacal light is sunlight reflected by dust particles between the Sun and Earth, and is best seen close to sunrise or sunset. As its name implies, this celestial glow appears in the ring of constellations known as the zodiac. These are found along the ecliptic, which is the eastward apparent “path” that the Sun traces across Earth’s sky.
This image shows the interior of one of the four 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes at ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile. Designated Unit Telescope 1, or UT1, and named Antu, this complex science machine has been in operation at Paranal since 1999. Just before sunset, technicians retract UT1’s windshield and work to finalise the preparations at the telescope for the night-time observation run. During the day, the enclosure is kept shut to protect the delicate and valuable scientific equipment inside, as well as to ensure minimal temperature differences between the telescope and the atmosphere at opening.
To the left of the telescope’s main mirror housing, in the centre of the image, is the Infrared Spectrometer And Array Camera (ISAAC), which was, until recently, attached to this instrument. It has now been moved to another of the Unit Telescopes, UT3 or Melipal.
This image is available as a mounted image in the ESOshop.