Picture of the Week

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potw1113 — Picture of the Week
ALMA: Greater than the Sum of its Parts
28 March 2011: When completed, the antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) will be spread across the Chajnantor plateau in the Chilean Andes over distances of up to 16 kilometres, but they will work in unison, to form what is known as an interferometer. In doing so, ALMA will be more powerful than the sum of its parts, acting like a single giant telescope as large as the whole collection of antennas. The 66 ALMA antennas are not all the same. A main array of fifty antennas with 12-metre dishes will be complemented by the Atacama Compact Array (ACA) of twelve smaller 7-metre dishes and four additional 12-metre dishes. The ACA dishes are being constructed by Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (MELCO). Three of them are shown in this photograph of the MELCO Site Erection Facility at the ALMA Operations Support Facility (OSF) site. The OSF is at an altitude of 2900 metres, ...
potw1112 — Picture of the Week
Supermoon over ESO's Very Large Telescope
21 March 2011: The night of 19 March saw an unusual coincidence of astronomical events: the full Moon occurred at almost exactly the same time as the Moon was closest to Earth in its elliptical orbit (the point called perigee). The combination of the Moon being both full and relatively close to the Earth made it look significantly bigger and brighter than usual. This panoramic photograph, taken by ESO Photo Ambassador Gerd Hüdepohl, captures this so-called "supermoon" as seen from Cerro Paranal, home of ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT).On the right, in the east, the Moon rises over the mountains, while the setting Sun is visible on the left of the panorama, sinking in the west below the clouds over the Pacific Ocean. Its last rays illuminate the four giant VLT Unit Telescope buildings, the smaller VLT Survey Telescope building, the four round VLT Auxiliary Telescope enclosures, and the Paranal staff who have ...
potw1111 — Picture of the Week
ALMA Antennas Reach Double Digits at Chajnantor
14 March 2011: The number of antennas for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) on the Chajnantor plateau has now reached double digits! The tenth antenna was moved up from the Operations Support Facility at an altitude of 2900 metres to the Array Operations Site at 5000 metres, high in the Chilean Andes, on 4 March 2011 using one of the ALMA transporter vehicles. ALMA is a telescope designed to observe millimetre- and submillimetre-wavelength light with its array of antenna dishes. Using a technique called interferometry, ALMA acts like a single giant telescope as large as the whole set of antennas. Thanks to the transporter vehicles, the antennas can be arranged in different configurations, where the maximum separation between them varies from 150 metres to 16 kilometres. The distant viewpoint of this photograph is necessary for one to see all ten of the antennas in a single shot. Nine of them, including the ...
potw1110 — Picture of the Week
A Quartet of ALMA Antennas Placed Close Together
7 March 2011: The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) antennas may look rooted to the ground in this striking image — taken at the Array Operations Site on the Chajnantor plateau, at an altitude of 5000 metres — but these dishes are surprisingly mobile. Thanks to the two antenna transporter vehicles, the antennas in the array — which will consist of a total of 66 dishes when construction is complete — can be repositioned to meet the needs of a particular observation project. The transporters, named Otto and Lore, were specially designed to transport the hefty 115-tonne antennas and position them precisely on concrete foundation pads, spread across the plateau over distances of up to 16 kilometres. Here, four antennas have been placed on closely spaced pads for testing during the Commissioning and Science Verification phase of ALMA construction. The transporter vehicles drive on 28 tyres, with two 700-HP (500 kW) diesel engines ...
potw1109 — Picture of the Week
ALMA Antennas Stand Together
28 February 2011: ALMA antennas stand side by side, built strong to withstand the unforgiving environment of the Chajnantor plateau, high in the Chilean Andes. At an altitude of 5000 m, the ALMA dishes — a total of 66 when construction is completed — will face strong winds and harsh sunlight, all without the safe haven of a protective dome. The temperature can vary by 40 degrees Celsius, dipping well below freezing and occasionally allowing snow to fall, as can be seen dusting the landscape in the background of this photograph. The ALMA project is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ESO is the European partner in ALMA. This photograph was taken by ESO Photo Ambassador José Francisco Salgado. Links ESO Photo Ambassadors webpage.
potw1108 — Picture of the Week
ALMA antennas under the Milky Way
21 February 2011: Four antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) gaze up at the star-filled night sky, in anticipation of the work that lies ahead. The Moon lights the scene on the right, while the band of the Milky Way stretches across the upper left. ALMA is being constructed at an altitude of 5000 m on the Chajnantor plateau in the Atacama Desert in Chile. This is one of the driest places on Earth and this dryness, combined with the thin atmosphere at high altitude, offers superb conditions for observing the Universe at millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths. At these long wavelengths, astronomers can probe, for example, molecular clouds, which are dense regions of gas and dust where new stars are born when a cloud collapses under its own gravity. Currently, the Universe remains relatively unexplored at submillimetre wavelengths, so astronomers expect to uncover many new secrets about star formation, as well ...
potw1107 — Picture of the Week
A Galactic Petri Dish
14 February 2011: This rich scattering of galaxies was captured using the Wide Field Imager attached to the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. The thousands of galaxies contained in this small area of sky give a glimpse into the Universe’s distant past, whilst also acting as a powerful reminder of the immense scale of the cosmos. This image was taken as part of the COMBO-17 project (Classifying Objects by Medium-Band Observations in 17 Filters), in which detailed surveys of five small patches of sky were made through 17 different coloured filters. The area of sky covered by each of the five regions is about the same area as that covered by the full Moon. The survey has produced a remarkable haul of celestial specimens. For example, across just three of these regions over 25 000 galaxies have been identified. Just below the bright stars in the centre of ...
potw1106 — Picture of the Week
HAWK-I Instrument Spies a Super Galaxy
7 February 2011: The HAWK-I instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the Paranal Observatory in Chile has been used to great effect in producing this distinctive image of the distant galaxy NGC 157. Boasting a central sweep of stars resembling a giant "S", reminiscent of the comic book hero Superman’s symbol, this celestial spiral is indeed a super example of how new technology is helping us to learn more about the cosmos. HAWK-I stands for High-Acuity Wide-field K-band Imager, and it is one of the latest and most powerful instruments on the VLT. It detects infrared light, allowing us to peer through the gas and dust that normally obscures our view. This reveals an otherwise hidden view of the Universe, and gives astronomers the opportunity to study dense areas of star formation. Learning more about star formation is an important step towards expanding our understanding of our own origins. The same ...
potw1105 — Picture of the Week
From One "Alien World" to Another
31 January 2011: What looks like a barren and inhospitable alien landscape in this 360-degree panorama is in fact the site for ESO’s European Extremely Large Telescope, or E-ELT for short. When construction begins the uninhabited mountaintop left of the centre will become a hive of activity as engineers, technicians and scientists work on building the world’s biggest eye on the sky. In many ways Chile’s Cerro Armazones may seem like an alien world. The environment is harsh, with low humidity and air pressure, a blazing Sun during the day, but breathtaking skies at night. Cerro Armazones is in the Atacama Desert — one of the driest places on Earth. These conditions, combined with its remoteness, are what make the region such an excellent location for telescopes. Armazones is an isolated peak, 3060 metres above sea level. It is about 20 km away from Cerro Paranal, home of ESO's famous Very Large Telescope. ...
potw1104 — Picture of the Week
A New Era for Astronomy
24 January 2011: As the Sun sets over Cerro Armazones, plans are well advanced for building the world's biggest “eye on the sky”: ESO's European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). With a primary mirror 39 metres in diameter, the E-ELT will dwarf all existing visible-light telescopes. Site selection has been a vital part of the plans for the E-ELT. Over the course of several years a team of experts investigated locations around the world, looking for the best place to host such an ambitious project. The site for the E-ELT must be remote enough not to be influenced by problems such as light pollution, but also needs the necessary infrastructure for the construction and operation of the observatory, and to accommodate the over 150 staff who will eventually work there. Monitoring stations, such as the one shown here, were set up to test site conditions scientifically by measuring parameters that included atmospheric turbulence and ...
potw1103a — Picture of the Week
Sailing the Atacama Desert
17 January 2011: Like the bow of a ship sailing a rolling ocean of red hills, the southeast corner of the observing platform at Paranal stands over the Mars-like landscape of the Chilean Atacama Desert. This panorama shows the breathtaking view of the horizon, and conveys the feeling of immensity experienced when looking from the top of Cerro Paranal, a remote 2600-metre-high mountain located in one of the driest regions on Earth. Atop Cerro Paranal is the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT), the world’s most advanced optical and near infrared ground-based astronomical facility, composed of four 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes (UTs) and four 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes (ATs). The fourth Unit Telescope (UT4), named Yepun in the Mapuche language, is most prominent in this photograph, while UT3 (Melipal) and UT1 (Antu) are just visible on the right-hand edge of the picture. Three of the smaller ATs can also be seen on the 200-metre-wide observing platform. ...
potw1102 — Picture of the Week
The VLT “Venus” and the Belt of Venus
10 January 2011: Before another clear, starry night falls at ESO's Paranal Observatory, home of the Very Large Telescope (VLT), the sky produces a palette of intense colours, putting on a beautiful show for observers. These colours can only be seen with such depth from sites such as Paranal, where the atmosphere is extraordinarily pure. Looking to the west, over the Pacific Ocean, the sunset sky turns bright orange and red. However, this photograph shows the view to the east instead, looking away from the Sun after it has just set. The grey-bluish shadow above the horizon is the shadow of our own planet. Above this is a pinkish glow known as the "Belt of Venus", a phenomenon produced by the reddened light of the setting Sun being backscattered by the Earth's atmosphere. In the centre of the image is the fourth 8.2-metre Unit Telescope (UT4), part of the VLT. The Mapuche name ...
potw1101 — Picture of the Week
Another Perfect Day at Paranal
3 January 2011: Rolling red hills stretch out below the exceptionally clear blue sky that is typical of ESO's Paranal Observatory. Although the telescope domes close at dawn, and nothing seems to move on the surface of this barren desert, the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) never rests. Since early morning, a team of engineers and technicians has been working hard to prepare the telescopes and instruments for another "perfect night". The 2600-metre-high Cerro Paranal stands out at the centre of this panoramic view, taken looking towards the south. This flattened mountaintop is home to the VLT, the world's most advanced ground-based optical and near infrared astronomical facility. The VLT has four 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes (UTs), plus four 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes (ATs). In this picture, only two of the UT enclosures, together with the smaller 2.6-metre VLT Survey Telescope (VST) are visible. To the right of Cerro Paranal, the sea of clouds that ...
potw1052 — Picture of the Week
The Long and Winding Road*
27 December 2010: This splendid picture shows the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) on Cerro Paranal in the Chilean Atacama desert. The mountaintop, 120 km south of the town of Antofagasta, is a remote haven for scientific exploration.Its distance from populated areas means that light pollution is essentially non-existent, which helps to guarantee clear views for the telescopes. It also ensures that activity is not disturbed by other human activities, such as traffic on nearby roads or dusty air from mines. The desert location means that moisture in the atmosphere is at a very low level, which contributes to the excellent atmospheric conditions. As well as the VLT, Paranal Observatory is also home to the VISTA telescope on an adjacent peak, from which this photograph was taken. The road which links the two peaks can be seen in the centre of the image, winding through the desert landscape.The two distinct bright ...
potw1051 — Picture of the Week
Monuments of Science*
20 December 2010: On a remote mountaintop, 2600 metres above sea level in the Chilean Atacama Desert, lies the world’s most advanced visible-light observatory. The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) is not only a window on the Universe; it is also a celebration of modern science and technology. This photograph shows two of the four Unit Telescopes that make up the VLT. With its giant 8.2-metre diameter mirrors, sensitive detectors, and state-of-the art adaptive optics system, the VLT uses cutting-edge technology at every opportunity. Even the telescope enclosures — the domes — are highly advanced, being thermally controlled to reduce air turbulence in the telescope structure. Every night the VLT studies the sky to make discoveries about the Universe. Visible in this photo, sweeping between the two Unit Telescopes, is the plane of the Milky Way. Containing billions of stars, it is our own corner of the cosmos, but the VLT's ...
potw1050 — Picture of the Week
Collecting Precious Starlight*
13 December 2010: As soon as the Sun sets over the Chilean Atacama Desert, ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) begins catching light from the far reaches of the Universe. The VLT has four 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes such as the one shown in the photograph. Many of the photons — particles of light — that are collected have travelled through space for billions of years before reaching the telescope’s primary mirror. The giant mirror acts like a high-tech “light bucket”, gathering as many photons as possible and sending them to sensitive detectors. Careful analysis of the data from these instruments allows astronomers to unravel the mysteries of the cosmos. The telescopes have a variety of instruments, which allow them to observe in a range of wavelengths from near-ultraviolet to mid-infrared. The VLT also boasts advanced adaptive optics systems, which counteract the blurring effects of the Earth's atmosphere, producing images so sharp that they could ...
potw1049 — Picture of the Week
Up Close and Personal with the Very Large Telescope
6 December 2010: Imagine being a fly on the wall of ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the world's most advanced optical observatory. You could have a view a little like this. Fish-eye photography gives this unusual view of the 8.2-metre diameter telescope, poised and ready to begin gathering light from the deep recesses of the Universe as soon as the dome opens and starlight pours in. The VLT has four of these 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes, called Antu, Kueyen, Melipal and Yepun. These are the Mapuche names for the Sun, Moon, Southern Cross and Venus. This photograph shows Yepun. The names are from the native language of the indigenous people who live mostly in the area south of the Bio-Bio River, some 500 km south of Santiago de Chile. The VLT is so powerful that it allows us to see objects four thousand million times fainter than those that can be seen with ...
potw1048 — Picture of the Week
Crash of the Titans
29 November 2010: NGC 520 — also known as Arp 157 — looks like a galaxy in the midst of exploding. In reality, it’s the exact opposite. Two enormous spiral galaxies are crashing into each other, melding and forming a new conglomerate. This happens slowly, over millions of years — the whole process started some 300 million years ago. The object, about 100 000 light-years across, is now in the middle stage of the merging process, as the two nuclei haven’t merged yet, but the two discs have. The merger features a tail of stars and a prominent dust lane. NGC 520 is one of the brightest interacting galaxies in the sky and lies in the direction of Pisces (the Fish), approximately 100 million light-years from Earth. This image was taken by the ESO Faint Object Spectrograph and Camera attached to the 3.6-metre telescope at La Silla in Chile. It is based on ...
potw1047 — Picture of the Week
Looking into the Milky Way’s Heart — ISAAC observes the Galactic Centre
22 November 2010: The centre of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is again in the sights of ESO telescopes. This time it’s the turn of ISAAC, the VLT’s near- and mid-infrared spectrometer and camera. From Chile’s Atacama Desert, site of the ESO observatories, the Milky Way offers magnificent views, particularly in the southern hemisphere winter, when the central region of our galaxy is most visible (see eso0934). However, the Galactic Centre itself, located about  27 000 light-years away in the constellation of Sagittarius, hides behind thick clouds of interstellar dust, which appear as dark obscuring lanes in visible light, but which are transparent at longer wavelengths such as the infrared. In this image, the infrared observations clearly reveal the dense clustering of stars in the galactic core. ESO telescopes have been tracking stars orbiting the centre of the Milky Way for more than 18 years, getting the highest resolution images of this area ...
potw1046 — Picture of the Week
An Ancient Cluster of Stars Against a Stunning Background
15 November 2010: Among the myriad of stars in this image shines NGC 2257, a collection of cosmic gems bound tightly by gravity. Many billions of years old, but still sparkling brightly, it is an eye-catching astronomical object. NGC 2257 is a globular cluster, the name given to the roughly spherical concentrations of stars that orbit galactic cores, but are often found far out from the centres in the halo areas of galaxies. Globular clusters contain very old stars, being typically over 10 billion years old, and can therefore be used like a "fossil record" to learn more about the Universe’s past. They are densely packed, with tens to hundreds of thousands of stars gathered within a diameter of just a few tens of light-years. NGC 2257 lies on the outskirts of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a satellite galaxy of our own Milky Way. It is one of 15 very old globular ...
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