Season’s Greetings from the European Southern Observatory!
Looking back at ESO’s achievements in 2011
13 December 2011
Click here for a special seasonal greeting from everyone at the European Southern Observatory!
The year 2011 has been yet another fruitful year for ESO. The organisation saw a number of significant steps forward in its mission to build and operate world-class ground-based telescopes.
In June, a new state-of-the-art telescope, the VLT Survey Telescope (VST), had its first light at the Paranal Observatory (eso1119). The telescope is equipped with an incredible 268-megapixel camera designed to map the sky in visible light. Another major milestone was the start of early science operations with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) at the end of September, which we celebrated with our partners in the global ALMA collaboration in North America and East Asia, and with the Republic of Chile. This was marked by a stunning first public image from ALMA, showing the famous Antennae Galaxies (eso1137). Additionally, with the Republic of Chile’s donation of the land that will be the site of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) (eso1139), and with the ESO Council’s approval of ESO’s budget for 2012 (eso1150), the world’s biggest eye on the sky moved a large step closer to reality.
In terms of scientific discoveries, ESO once again confirmed its position at the forefront of ground-based astronomy.
Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers got the opportunity to study in detail a gigantic once-in-a-generation storm on Saturn which had planet-wide consequences in its atmosphere (eso1116). Astronomers using ESO’s New Technology Telescope (NTT) established that the asteroid Lutetia is probably a remnant of the primitive material that formed the inner rocky planets, including Earth, and that was later ejected out towards the main belt of asteroids (eso1144). Looking at the outer reaches of our planetary system, a team using several telescopes in Chile including the TRAPPIST telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory used an occultation of a star by the dwarf planet Eris to establish with precision Eris’s diameter and properties. It appears to be an almost perfect twin of Pluto in size, with an icy body covered in a thin layer of frozen atmosphere (eso1142).
Much further away, astronomers using the VLT discovered the most distant quasar ever found, created when the Universe was less than one billion years old. Powered by a black hole with a mass equivalent to two billion solar masses, it is the brightest object to be discovered in the early Universe (eso1122).
The La Silla Observatory proved once again its important contribution to astronomy with the discovery of more than 50 exoplanets with the HARPS spectrograph, installed on ESO’s 3.6-metre telescope. Among the planets was one super-Earth in the habitable zone of its star (eso1134). The discovery pushed the total number of confirmed exoplanets to more than 600.
Looking back at these achievements, we would like to thank you all for your cosmic support and collaboration in 2011, and to look forward to an even more eventful 2012, when ESO will be celebrating fifty years of reaching new heights in astronomy. We wish you all Happy Holidays!
Lars Lindberg Christensen
Head, ESO education and Public Outreach Department, Garching, Germany
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