Picture of the Week

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potw1341-en-gb — Picture of the Week
Surprise Cloud Around Vast Star
14 October 2013: This new picture from the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at ESO's Paranal Observatory shows the remarkable super star cluster Westerlund 1 (eso1034). This exceptionally bright cluster lies about 16 000 light-years from Earth in the southern constellation of Ara (The Altar). It contains hundreds of very massive and brilliant stars, all of which are just a few million years old — babies by stellar standards. But our view of this cluster is hampered by gas and dust that prevents most of the visible light from the cluster's stars from getting to Earth. Now, astronomers studying images of Westerlund 1 from a new survey of the southern skies [1] have spotted something unexpected in this cluster. Around one of the stars — known as W26, a red supergiant and possibly the biggest star known— they have discovered clouds of glowing hydrogen gas, shown as green features in this new image. Such ...
potw1340-en-gb — Picture of the Week
An Oasis, or a Secret Lair?
7 October 2013: This image shows a dark Chilean sky filled with spectacular star trails — caused by the Earth's rotation during the camera's long exposure time. Underneath these dramatic streaks lies the Paranal Residencia, an oasis to the staff and visitors to ESO's Very Large Telescope, located high on Cerro Paranal in the Chilean desert. Construction of the Residencia began in 1998 and was completed by 2002. Since then, it has offered a welcome break from the harsh, dry climate of the desert to the scientists and engineers who work at Paranal Observatory. The four-storey building has the majority of its structure buried underground. The facility was designed by German architects Auer+Weber to complement the surrounding environment. From certain angles, the combination of hi-tech utilitarian architecture and inconspicuous, almost camouflage-like design is reminiscent of a villain’s secret lair. Perhaps it is no surprise that the Residencia was selected as the setting for ...
potw1339-en-gb — Picture of the Week
Unveiling distant stars and galaxies
30 September 2013: This frame, scattered with distant stars and galaxies, is a deep-field image taken using the Wide Field Imager (WFI), a camera mounted on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope located at the La Silla Observatory, Chile. It was snapped as part of the COMBO-17 survey (Classifying Objects by Medium-Band Observations in 17 filters), a project that imaged five small patches of sky in 17 different coloured optical filters. The total area of sky explored in each of the COMBO-17 fields equates to approximately the same size as the full Moon, and has revealed huge numbers of distant objects — demonstrating just how much is still waiting to be discovered in our skies. The image shows a region that was also investigated as part of the FORS Deep Field (FDF), a project that examined various areas of sky in great detail and depth using the FORS2 spectrograph instrument currently installed on ESO’s Very ...
potw1338-en-gb — Picture of the Week
New Cool Starlet in Our Backyard
23 September 2013: This new image, from ESO’s VISTA telescope, shows a newly-discovered brown dwarf nicknamed VVV BD001, which is located at the very centre of this zoomable image. It is the first new brown dwarf spotted in our cosmic neighbourhood as part of the VVV Survey. VVV BD001 is located about 55 light-years away from us, towards the very crowded centre of our galaxy. Brown dwarfs are stars that never quite managed to grow up into a star like our Sun. They are often referred to as “failed stars”; they are larger in size than planets like Jupiter, but smaller than stars. This dwarf is peculiar in two ways; firstly, it is the first one found towards the centre of our Milky Way, one of the most crowded regions of the sky. Secondly, it belongs to an unusual class of stars known as “unusually blue brown dwarfs” — it is still unclear why these stars ...
potw1337-en-gb — Picture of the Week
Toconao Seen From Above
16 September 2013: The small village of Toconao is the closest settlement to the largest astronomy project in existence, ALMA [1], the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array. Toconao has less than 800 inhabitants and is located at 2475 metres above sea level in a natural oasis fed by a small mountain river on the outskirts of the driest desert in the world, the Atacama. The river doesn’t flow all year, but the local farmers have wisely built a network of dams and channels to regulate the flow of water so that they can have crops all year round. When looking closely at this image, some buildings can be spotted, made of traditional materials such as adobe and volcanic rock, like the San Lucas Church and Bell Tower, on the bottom left of the image. In parallel with their scientific work, ALMA staff have worked with the Atacameño Elders in Toconao and other areas to ...
potw1336-en-gb — Picture of the Week
Eyes over Cerro Armazones
9 September 2013: This spectacular aerial shot of Cerro Armazones, taken by ESO Photo Ambassador Gerhard Hüdepohl, represents that wonderful moment for a photographer: when everything lines up for the perfect shot. Hüdepohl captured this image while on a commercial flight from Antofagasta to Santiago. Shortly after taking off the plane took the ideal flight path for an aerial snap of Cerro Armazones — and Hüdepohl could not have asked for better conditions. Seizing the moment, he was able to capture this unusual perspective, high above the spectacular terrain. This image shows the Atacama Desert with amazing clarity, with the thin, zigzag path standing out sharply from the dusty terrain. This dirt road can be seen slicing its way up to the summit of Cerro Armazones. The site will soon become the home of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), a 39-metre telescope that will not only answer existing questions in astronomy, but ...
potw1335-en-gb — Picture of the Week
PESSTO Snaps Supernova in Messier 74
2 September 2013: ESO's PESSTO survey has captured this view of Messier 74, a stunning spiral galaxy with well-defined whirling arms. However, the real subject of this image is the galaxy's brilliant new addition from late July 2013: a Type II supernova named SN2013ej that is visible as the brightest star at the bottom left of the image. Such supernovae occur when the core of a massive star collapses due to its own gravity at the end of its life. This collapse results in a massive explosion that ejects material far into space. The resulting detonation can be more brilliant than the entire galaxy that hosts it and can be visible to observers for weeks, or even months. PESSTO (Public ESO Spectroscopic Survey for Transient Objects) is designed to study objects that appear briefly in the night sky, such as supernovae. It does this by utilising a number of instruments on the NTT ...
potw1334-en-gb — Picture of the Week
Carved by Massive Stars
26 August 2013: This image, captured by ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Paranal, shows a small part of the well-known emission nebula, NGC 6357, located some 8000 light-years away, in the tail of the southern constellation of Scorpius (The Scorpion). The image glows with the characteristic red of an H II region, and contains a large amount of ionised and excited hydrogen gas. The cloud is bathed in intense ultraviolet radiation — mainly from the open star cluster Pismis 24, home to some massive, young, blue stars — which it re-emits as visible light, in this distinctive red hue. The cluster itself is out of the field of view of this picture, its diffuse light seen illuminating the cloud on the centre-right of the image. We are looking at a close-up of the surrounding nebula, showing a mesh of gas, dark dust, and newly born and still forming stars.
potw1333-en-gb — Picture of the Week
Starry Night at La Silla
19 August 2013: A piercingly bright curtain of stars is the backdrop for this beautiful image taken by astronomer Håkon Dahle. The silhouetted figure in the foreground is Håkon himself surrounded by just a couple of the great dark domes that litter the mountain of ESO’s La Silla Observatory. Many professional astronomers are also keen photographers — and who could blame them? ESO sites in the Atacama Desert are among the best places on Earth for observing the stars, and for the same reason, are amazing places for photographing the night sky. Håkon took these photos while on a week-long observing run at the MPG/ESO 2.2 -telescope. During this time, the telescope was occasionally handed over to a different observing team, giving Håkon the opportunity to admire the starry night — as well as to capture it for the rest of us to see. The Milky Way is brighter in the Southern Hemisphere ...
potw1332-en-gb — Picture of the Week
The calm before the storm
12 August 2013: This beautiful image portrays the galaxies NGC 799 (below) and NGC 800 (above) located in the constellation of Cetus (The Whale). This pair of galaxies was first observed by the American astronomer Lewis Swift back in 1885. Located at a distance of about 300 million light-years, our face-on view allows us to clearly appreciate their shapes. Like the Milky Way — our galaxy — these objects are both spiral galaxies, with characteristic long arms winding towards a bright bulge at the centre. In the prominent spiral arms, a large number of hot, young, blue stars are forming in clusters (tiny blue dots seen in the image) whereas in the central bulge a large group of cooler, redder, old stars are packed into a compact, almost spherical region. At first glance, these galaxies look rather similar, but the devil is in the detail. Apart from the obvious difference in size, only ...
potw1330-en-gb — Picture of the Week
Messier 100 — Grand Design Splendour
29 July 2013: Spiral galaxies are usually very aesthetically appealing objects, and never more so than when they appear face-on. And this image is a particularly splendid example: it is the grand design spiral galaxy Messier 100, located in the southern part of the constellation of Coma Berenices, and lying about 55 million light-years from Earth. While Messier 100 shows very well defined spiral arms, it also displays the faintest of bar-like structures in the centre, which classifies this as type SAB. Although it is not easily spotted in the image, scientists have been able to confirm the bar’s existence by observing it in other wavelengths. This very detailed image shows the main features expected in a galaxy of this type: huge clouds of hydrogen gas, glowing in red patches when they re-emit the energy absorbed from newly born, massive stars; the uniform brightness of older, yellowish stars near the centre; and black ...
potw1329-en-gb — Picture of the Week
The NTT Spinning like a Top
22 July 2013: This dynamic image shows the New Technology Telescope (NTT) located at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. The distinctively shaped enclosure of the telescope appears blurred by movement in the picture, as the telescope rotates to point at its desired target. The photo was taken with a 30-second exposure. One of the first things you notice in this picture is that the telescope building has a peculiar angular shape on the outside, rather than the more common rounded dome design usually seen. Its design features have been much copied, including by ESO’s Very Large Telescope, but they were groundbreaking when the telescope was inaugurated in 1989. The NTT’s revolutionary design targets optimal image quality, for instance, through carefully controlled ventilation, which optimises airflow across the NTT, minimising the blurring caused by air turbulence inside. Just visible in the blur of this image are the large flaps that form a key ...
potw1328-en-gb — Picture of the Week
Wings for Science Fly Over Paranal
15 July 2013: This rare aerial view of the Paranal Observatory was taken in December 2012 by Clémentine Bacri and Adrien Normier, who are flying a special eco-friendly ultralight [1] aeroplane on a year-long journey around the world. This striking view shows the raw natural beauty of the landscape at the remote home of one of the world’s finest astronomical facilities, ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), with its four independent 8.2-metre telescopes sitting at the top of Cerro Paranal. ESO has an ongoing outreach partnership with the ORA Wings for Science project, a non-profit initiative which offers aerial support to public research organisations. The two crew members of the Wings for Science Project did a flyby above the observatories of Northern Chile, among other locations, before they left South America and jumped to Australia. During their trip, they help out scientists by providing aerial capabilities ranging from air sampling to archaeology, biodiversity observation ...
potw1327a-en-gb — Picture of the Week
Maëlle's New Toys
8 July 2013: Astronomy and telescopes can sometimes bring out our inner child. In a testament to human curiosity, astronomers keep building ever-larger instruments in remote places throughout the world. ESO Astronomer Julien Girard snapped this cute picture of his daughter during a family day at Paranal Observatory, in the Chilean Andes. Thanks to a trick of perspective, little Maëlle seems to be looking into the open dome of one of the 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). Although the telescopes are used for serious scientific research, astronomers can sometimes feel like children when playing with such giant “toys”. Julien Girard is an ESO astronomer and an ESO Photo Ambassador based in Chile, working at the VLT. He is the instrument scientist for the NACO adaptive optics instrument on the VLT’s Unit Telescope 4. He submitted this photograph to the Your ESO Pictures Flickr group, from where it was picked ...
potw1326-en-gb — Picture of the Week
European Antennas at ALMA’s Operations Support Facility
1 July 2013: In this photograph from 2012, we see antennas destined to become part of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). The three antennas in the foreground, as well as some of those in the background, were supplied by ESO as part of its contribution to ALMA, through a contract with the European AEM Consortium [1]. In total ESO is providing 25 of the 12-metre-diameter antennas. A further twenty-five 12-metre antennas are provided by the North American ALMA partner, while the remainder, a set of twelve 7-metre and four 12-metre antennas comprising the Atacama Compact Array, are provided by the East Asian ALMA partner. The antennas are seen here at ALMA’s Operations Support Facility (OSF), at an altitude of 2900 metres in the foothills of the Chilean Andes. Those in the foreground are in the AEM Site Erection Facility, where the antennas are assembled and rigorously tested before they are handed over ...
potw1325-en-gb — Picture of the Week
Moonlight and Zodiacal Light Over La Silla
24 June 2013: What may look like a futuristic city out of a science fiction story, floating high above the clouds, is ESO’s longest-serving observatory, La Silla. This photograph was taken by astronomer Alan Fitzsimmons while standing near the ESO 3.6-metre telescope just after sunset. The Moon is located just outside the frame of this picture, bathing the observatory in an eerie light that is reflected off the clouds below. The very faint band of glowing golden light just above the clouds still illuminated by the sunset is the zodiacal light. It is caused by sunlight diffused by dust particles between the Sun and the planets. This can only be seen just after sunset or just before sunrise, at particular times of year, from very good sites. Several telescopes can be seen in this photograph. For example, the large angular structure at the end of the road is the New Technology Telescope (NTT). ...
potw1324-en-gb — Picture of the Week
Thunderbolts and lightning
17 June 2013: In this electrifying image, taken on Friday 7 June 2013, a furious thunderstorm is discharging its mighty rage over Cerro Paranal. The colossal enclosures of the four VLT Unit Telescopes, each one the size of an eight-storey building, are dwarfed under the hammering of the powerful storm. In the left of the image, a solitary star has emerged to witness the show — a single point of light against an obscured sky. This star is Procyon, a bright binary star in the constellation of Canis Minor (The Lesser Dog). Clouds over ESO’s Paranal Observatory are a rare sight. On average, the site experiences an astonishing 330 clear days every year. Lightning is even rarer, as the observatory is located in one of the driest places in the world: the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile, 2600 metres above sea level. If there are any clouds, most of the time the observatory ...
potw1323-en-gb — Picture of the Week
The Rise and Fall of a Supernova
10 June 2013: An unusual new video sequence shows the rapid brightening and slower fading of a supernova explosion in the galaxy NGC 1365. The supernova, which has been named SN 2012fr, was discovered by French astronomer Alain Klotz on the 27 October 2012. The images captured by the small TAROT robotic telescope, located at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, have been compiled to create this unique movie. Supernovae are the results of the explosive and cataclysmic deaths of certain types of stars. They are so brilliant that they can outshine their entire parent galaxy for many weeks before slowly fading from sight. The supernova 2012fr [1] was discovered by Alain Klotz on the afternoon of 27 October 2012. He was busy measuring the brightness of a faint variable star in an image from the TAROT (Télescope à Action Rapide pour les Objets Transitoires) robotic telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory, when ...
potw1322-en-gb — Picture of the Week
Three Planets Dance Over La Silla
3 June 2013: It’s a real treat for photographers and astronomers alike: our skies are currently witnessing a phenomenon known as a syzygy — when three celestial bodies (or more) nearly align themselves in the sky. When celestial bodies have similar ecliptic longitude, this event is also known as a triple near-conjunction. Of course, this is just a trick of perspective, but this doesn't make it any less spectacular. In this case, these bodies are three planets, and the only thing needed to enjoy the show is a clear view of the sky at sunset. Luckily, this is what happened for ESO photo ambassador Yuri Beletsky, who had the chance to spot this spectacular view from ESO's La Silla Observatory in northern Chile on Sunday 26 May. Above the round domes of the telescopes, three of the planets in our Solar System — Jupiter (top), Venus (lower left), and Mercury (lower right) — ...
potw1321-en-gb — Picture of the Week
Ripples Across the Chilean Sky
27 May 2013: At first sight, this mesmerising image might look like the waves caused by a stone thrown into a lake. And yet, this is the result of the apparent motion of the stars through the southern sky and some magic performed by the photographer. The image was taken at Cerro Armazones, a mountain peak 3060 metres above sea level, which lies in the central part of the Atacama Desert, in the Chilean Andes. The long bright stripes are star trails and each one marks the path of a single star across the dark night sky. By leaving the camera’s shutter open for a long period of time, the movement of the stars, imperceptible to the naked eye, is revealed. Exposure times of as little as 15 minutes are long enough to do the trick. In this case, the photographer combined many shorter exposures to form the final image. The very wide-angle ...
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