Press Releases 2002

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eso0215-en-us — Science Release
Ultrabass Sounds of the Giant Star xi Hya
15 May 2002: About 30 years ago, astronomers realised that the Sun resonates like a giant musical instrument with well-defined periods (frequencies). It forms a sort of large, spherical organ pipe. The energy that excites these sound waves comes from the turbulent region just below the Sun's visible surface.
Observations of the solar sound waves (known as "helioseismology") have resulted in enormous progress in the exploration of the interior of the Sun, otherwise hidden from view. As is the case on Earth, seismic techniques can be applied and the detailed interpretation of the observed oscillation periods has provided quite accurate information about the structure and motions inside the Sun, our central star. It has now also become possible to apply this technique to some solar-type stars. The first observations concerned the northern star eta Bootis. Last year, extensive and much more accurate observations with the 1.2-m Swiss telescope at the ESO La Silla Observatory proved that Alpha Centauri , a solar "twin", behaves very much like the Sun, and that some of the periods are quite similar to those in the Sun. These new observational data were of a superb quality, and that study marked a true break-through in the new research field of "asteroseismology" (seismology of the stars) for solar-type stars. But what about other types of stars, for instance those that are much larger than the Sun?
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eso0209-en-us — Science Release
VIMOS - a Cosmology Machine for the VLT
13 March 2002: One of the most fundamental tasks of modern astrophysics is the study of the evolution of the Universe . This is a daunting undertaking that requires extensive observations of large samples of objects in order to produce reasonably detailed maps of the distribution of galaxies in the Universe and to perform statistical analysis. Much effort is now being put into mapping the relatively nearby space and thereby to learn how the Universe looks today . But to study its evolution, we must compare this with how it looked when it still was young . This is possible, because astronomers can "look back in time" by studying remote objects - the larger their distance, the longer the light we now observe has been underway to us, and the longer is thus the corresponding "look-back time." This may sound easy, but it is not. Very distant objects are very dim and can only be observed with large telescopes. Looking at one object at a time would make such a study extremely time-consuming and, in practical terms, impossible. To do it anyhow, we need the largest possible telescope with a highly specialised, exceedingly sensitive instrument that is able to observe a very large number of (faint) objects in the remote universe simultaneously. The VLT VIsible Multi-Object Spectrograph (VIMOS) is such an instrument. It can obtain many hundreds of spectra of individual galaxies in the shortest possible time; in fact, in one special observing mode, up to 6400 spectra of the galaxies in a remote cluster during a single exposure, augmenting the data gathering power of the telescope by the same proportion. This marvellous science machine has just been installed at the 8.2-m MELIPAL telescope, the third unit of the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the ESO Paranal Observatory. A main task will be to carry out 3-dimensional mapping of the distant Universe from which we can learn its large-scale structure. "First light" was achieved on February 26, 2002, and a first series of test observations has successfully demonstrated the huge potential of this amazing facility. Much work on VIMOS is still ahead during the coming months in order to put into full operation and fine-tune the most efficient "galaxy cruncher" in the world. VIMOS is the outcome of a fruitful collaboration between ESO and several research institutes in France and Italy, under the responsibility of the Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille (CNRS, France). The other partners in the "VIRMOS Consortium" are the Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Toulouse, Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées, and Observatoire de Haute-Provence in France, and Istituto di Radioastronomia (Bologna), Istituto di Fisica Cosmica e Tecnologie Relative (Milano), Osservatorio Astronomico di Bologna, Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera (Milano) and Osservatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte (Naples) in Italy.
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eso0208-en-us — Science Release
UVES Investigates the Environment of a Very Remote Galaxy
11 March 2002: Observations with ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) have enabled an international group of astronomers [1] to study in unprecedented detail the surroundings of a very remote galaxy, almost 12 billion light-years distant [2]. The corresponding light travel time means that it is seen at a moment only about 3 billion years after the Big Bang. This galaxy is designated MS 1512-cB58 and is the brightest known at such a large distance and such an early time. This is due to a lucky circumstance: a massive cluster of galaxies (MS 1512+36) is located about halfway along the line-of-sight, at a distance of about 7 billion light-years, and acts as a gravitational "magnifying glass." Thanks to this lensing effect, the image of MS1512-cB58 appears 50 times brighter. Nevertheless, the apparent brightness is still as faint as magnitude 20.6 (i.e., nearly 1 million times fainter than what can be perceived with the unaided eye). Moreover, MS 1512-cB58 is located 36° north of the celestial equator and never rises more than 29° above the horizon at Paranal. It was therefore a great challenge to secure the present observational data with the UVES high-dispersion spectrograph on the 8.2-m VLT KUEYEN telescope. The extremely detailed UVES-spectrum of MS 1512-cB58 displays numerous signatures (absorption lines) of intergalactic gas clouds along the line-of-sight . Some of the clouds are quite close to the galaxy and the astronomers have therefore been able to investigate the distribution of matter in its immediate surroundings. They found an excess of material near MS 1512-cB58, possible evidence of a young supercluster of galaxies , already at this very early epoch. The new observations thus provide an invaluable contribution to current studies of the birth and evolution of structures in the early Universe. This is the first time this kind of observation has ever been done of a galaxy at such a large distance . All previous studies were based on much more luminous quasars (QSOs - extremely active galaxy nuclei). However, any investigation of the intergalactic matter around a quasar is complicated by the strong radiation and consequently, high ionization of the gas by the QSO itself, rendering an unbiased assessment of the gas distribution impossible.
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eso0203-en-us — Organisation Release
Multiple Eyes for the VLT
28 January 2002: The ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the Paranal Observatory is being equipped with many state-of-the-art astronomical instruments that will allow observations in a large number of different modes and wavebands [1]. Soon to come is the Fibre Large Array Multi-Element Spectrograph (FLAMES) , a project co-ordinated by ESO. It incorporates several complex components, now being constructed at various research institutions in Europe and Australia.

One of these, a true technological feat, is a unique system of 15 deployable fibre bundles, the so-called Integral Field Units (IFUs) . They can be accurately positioned within a sky field-of-view measuring no less that 25 arcmin in diameter, i.e., almost as large as the full Moon . Each of the IFUs looks like an insect's eye and images a small sky area (3 x 2 arcsec 2 ) with a multiple microlens. From each IFU, 20 narrow light beams are sent via optical fibres to an advanced spectrograph. All 300 spectra are recorded simultaneously by a sensitive digital camera.

A major advantage of this technique is that, contrary usual spectroscopic observations in which spectral information is obtained along a (one-dimensional) line on the sky, it now allows (two-dimensional) area spectroscopy . This will permit extremely efficient spectral observations of many celestial objects, including faint galaxies, providing detailed information about their internal structure and motions. Such studies will have an important impact on our understanding, e.g., of the early evolution of galaxies , the main building blocks in the Universe.

The IFUs have been developed by a team of astronomers and engineers [2] at the Observatoire de Paris-Meudon. All IFU components are now at the ESO Headquarters in Garching (Germany) where they are being checked and integrated into the instrument [3].
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