From European Southern Observatory: “ESO’s Very Large Telescope Celebrates 20 Years of Remarkable Science”

ESO 50 Large

From European Southern Observatory

25 May 2018
Richard Hook
ESO Public Information Officer
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
Email: pio@eso.org

1

ESO’s Very Large Telescope, the flagship facility for European ground-based astronomy, celebrates its 20th anniversary today. The first of the VLT’s Unit Telescopes saw first light on 25 May 1998, ushering in a new era of astronomy. Over the following years three more 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes were completed and these giants were joined by the four smaller Auxiliary Telescopes (ATs) that form part of the VLT Interferometer. The interferometer first combined the light from two ATs in 2005, creating a virtual telescope up to 200 metres in diameter that now regularly observes the surfaces of stars.

The VLT could not function without its world-class suite of instruments, which have been developed in collaboration with astronomers and engineers in the ESO community. A spectacular recent addition to the VLT is the 4 Laser Guide Star Facility, which projects four 22-watt laser beams into the upper atmosphere to create artificial stars that help correct for the effects of atmospheric turbulence, a technique known as adaptive optics [see the great image below].

The instruments on the VLT are in high demand — last year the requested observing time exceeded the available time by a factor of five. Successful observing requests have provided the data behind thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers — in 2017 alone, over 600 papers were published using data from the VLT.

ESO’s flagship observatory has not just led to a great quantity of science, but also quality. The VLT has contributed to breakthroughs in many areas of astronomy, and is responsible for seven of ESO’s Top 10 Astronomical Discoveries.

For instance, in 2009 the VLT overcame the demanding observational challenge of imaging a planet around another star for the first time, followed by the first analysis of the atmosphere around a super-Earth exoplanet in 2010. ESO has continued to build on this planet-hunting capability with SPHERE, a planet-hunting instrument that was added to the VLT in 2014.

ESO SPHERE extreme adaptive optics system and coronagraphic facility on the extreme adaptive optics system and coronagraphic facility on the VLT, Cerro Paranal, Chile, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level


ESO/SPHERE extreme adaptive optics system and coronagraphic facility on the VLT, Cerro Paranal, Chile, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

Painstaking VLT observations spanning nearly two decades revealed the motions of stars orbiting the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy.

Sgr A* from ESO VLT

This continues to be a closely-studied topic — in fact, this week the VLT is scrutinising the star S2 as it passes close by this hidden monster. Just last year ESO’s fleet of telescopes, including the VLT, was used to observe another exotic phenomenon: the first light from a gravitational wave source.

On top of its scientific legacy, the VLT is also playing a vital role in preparing technology for ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), currently under construction 23 kilometres from the VLT in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. ESO’s experience in building and operating remote, cutting-edge observatories such as the VLT is proving vital in developing the ELT, the next frontier in ground-based astronomy.

See the full article here .


five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

stem

Stem Education Coalition

Visit ESO in Social Media-

Facebook

Twitter

YouTube

ESO Bloc Icon

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

ESO La Silla HELIOS (HARPS Experiment for Light Integrated Over the Sun)

ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at Cerro LaSilla, Chile, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

ESO 2.2 meter telescope at La Silla, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

ESO/Cerro LaSilla, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

ESO VLT Platform at Cerro Paranal elevation 2,635 m (8,645 ft)

ESO/Vista Telescope at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

Glistening against the awesome backdrop of the night sky above ESO_s Paranal Observatory, four laser beams project out into the darkness from Unit Telescope 4 UT4 of the VLT.

ESO/NTT at Cerro La Silla, Chile, at an altitude of 2400 metres

ESO/Vista Telescope at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array in Chile in the Atacama at Chajnantor plateau, at 5,000 metres

ESO/E-ELT,to be on top of Cerro Armazones in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, at an altitude 3,046 m (9,993 ft)

ESO/APEX high on the Chajnantor plateau in Chile’s Atacama region, at an altitude of over 4,800 m (15,700 ft)

Leiden MASCARA instrument, La Silla, located in the southern Atacama Desert 600 kilometres (370 mi) north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2,400 metres (7,900 ft)

Leiden MASCARA cabinet at ESO Cerro la Silla located in the southern Atacama Desert 600 kilometres (370 mi) north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2,400 metres (7,900 ft)

ESO Next Generation Transit Survey at Cerro Paranel, 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

SPECULOOS four 1m-diameter robotic telescopes 2016 in the ESO Paranal Observatory, 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

ESO TAROT telescope at Paranal, 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

ESO ExTrA telescopes at Cerro LaSilla at an altitude of 2400 metres