Astronomers Build the Most Advanced Observatory in the World from LEGO®
29 June 2017
It took some of the brightest minds in science and technology to build ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile, one of the largest and most sophisticated telescope facilities in the world. Now Dutch astronomer Frans Snik and a team of dedicated helpers have created a unique LEGO® model of the entire Paranal platform, complete with replicas of the four 8.2-metre VLT Unit Telescopes (UT), the four 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes and other astonishingly minute details .
This mind-boggling one-of-a-kind model has been handed over to ESO and is on display at the ESO Headquarters in Garching, Germany. When the ESO Supernova Planetarium & Visitor Centre opens at the ESO Headquarters in spring 2018, the model will be displayed there.
The model of the Paranal platform, at a scale of approximately 1:150, comprises the VLT telescopes and their dome structures, and all of the instruments used on the real VLT are also present. It also has accurate models of the VST, VISTA and the Control Building. Each 8.2-metre UT on the VLT platform comprises exactly 3104 parts, and the whole Paranal platform model required over 25 000 individual parts — plus a substantial amount of time and patience! The telescopes rotate and all the dome shutters and vents open and close. The four Auxiliary Telescopes can be moved into position along their tracks, just like the real things, and the VLTI tunnels house a working miniature interferometer that can produce real fringes.
Building a model telescope is an excellent way to understand how complex modern astronomical instruments work and anyone ambitious enough (and with around 5000 euros to spare) can build their own version of these huge telescopes. Frans Snik will be pleased to provide the necessary instructions.
As if that wasn’t enough, ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope, currently being built close to Paranal, can also be built — to the same scale as the Paranal model — out of LEGO®.
 The LEGO® Paranal began its small-scale existence in 2014, when Snik designed and built his first LEGO® model of ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT). Later on a LEGO® model of the 8.2-metre VLT Unit Telescopes (UT) was conceived.
- LEGO® VLT construction manual (PDF)
- LEGO® ELT construction manual (PDF)
- List of LEGO® bricks for the VLT model: use the BrickStock freeware to open this file (.bsx compressed 7KB)
- List of the LEGO® bricks needed for the ELT model can be found here.
Leiden Observatory, Leiden University
Leiden, the Netherlands
Tel: +31 71 527 8431
ESO Public Information Officer
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
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