From European Southern Observatory: “A Galactic Gem”

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From European Southern Observatory

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FORS2, an instrument mounted on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, has observed the spiral galaxy NGC 3981 in all its glory. The image was captured as part of the ESO Cosmic Gems Programme, which makes use of the rare occasions when observing conditions are not suitable for gathering scientific data. Instead of sitting idle, the ESO Cosmic Gems Programme allows ESO’s telescopes to be used to capture visually stunning images of the southern skies.

ESO FORS2 VLT mounted on Unit Telescope 1 (Antu)

12 September 2018

Calum Turner
ESO Public Information Officer
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6670
Email: pio@eso.org


FORS2, an instrument mounted on ESO’s Very Large Telescope captured the spiral galaxy NGC 3981 in all its glory. The image, captured during the ESO Cosmic Gems Programme, showcases the beauty of the southern skies when conditions don’t allow scientific observations to be made.

The video is available in 4K UHD.

The ESOcast Light is a series of short videos bringing you the wonders of the Universe in bite-sized pieces. The ESOcast Light episodes will not be replacing the standard, longer ESOcasts, but complement them with current astronomy news and images in ESO press releases. Credit: ESO
Directed by: Nico Bartmann.
Editing: Nico Bartmann.
Web and technical support: Mathias André and Raquel Yumi Shida.
Written by: Stephen Molyneux and Calum Turner.
Music: John Stanford (johnstanfordmusic.com).
Footage and photos: ESO, Liam Young, Digitized Sky Survey 2, N. Risinger (skysurvey.org).
Executive producer: Lars Lindberg Christensen.


This zoom video starts with a wide view of the Milky Way and ends with a close-up look at the spiral galaxy NGC 3981 in the constellation of Crater (The Cup). The final view of this region was captured by FORS2, an instrument mounted on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, as part of the ESO Cosmic Gems Programme. This programme showcases the beauty of the southern skies when conditions don’t allow scientific observations to be made.
Credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2/N. Risinger (skysurvey.org). Music: Astral Electronic.

This wonderful image shows the resplendent spiral galaxy NGC 3981 suspended in the inky blackness of space. This galaxy, which lies in the constellation of Crater (the Cup), was imaged in May 2018 using the FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph 2 (FORS2) instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT).

FORS2 is mounted on Unit Telescope 1 (Antu) of the VLT at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. Amongst the host of cutting-edge instruments mounted on the four Unit Telescopes of the VLT, FORS2 stands apart due to its extreme versatility. This ”Swiss Army knife” of an instrument is able to study a variety of astronomical objects in many different ways — as well as being capable of producing beautiful images like this one.

The sensitive gaze of FORS2 revealed NGC 3981’s spiral arms, strewn with vast streams of dust and star-forming regions, and a prominent disc of hot young stars. The galaxy is inclined towards Earth, allowing astronomers to peer right into the heart of this galaxy and observe its bright centre, a highly energetic region containing a supermassive black hole. Also shown is NGC 3981’s outlying spiral structure, some of which appears to have been stretched outwards from the galaxy, presumably due to the gravitational influence of a past galactic encounter.

NGC 3981 certainly has many galactic neighbours. Lying approximately 65 million light years from Earth, the galaxy is part of the NGC 4038 group, which also contains the well-known interacting Antennae Galaxies. This group is part of the larger Crater Cloud, which is itself a smaller component of the Virgo Supercluster, the titanic collection of galaxies that hosts our own Milky Way galaxy.

Virgo Supercluster, Wikipedia

Virgo Supercluster NASA

NGC 3981 is not the only interesting feature captured in this image. As well as several foreground stars from our own galaxy, the Milky Way, FORS2 also captured a rogue asteroid streaking across the sky, visible as the faint line towards the top of the image. This particular asteroid has unwittingly illustrated the process used to create astronomical images, with the three different exposures making up this image displayed in the blue, green and red sections of the asteroid’s path.

This image was taken as part of ESO’s Cosmic Gems programme, an outreach initiative to produce images of interesting, intriguing or visually attractive objects using ESO telescopes, for the purposes of education and public outreach. The programme makes use of telescope time that cannot be used for science observations. In case the data collected could be useful for future scientific purposes, these observations are saved and made available to astronomers through ESO’s science archive.

See the full article here .


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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 EEuropean Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

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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)

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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