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  • richardmitnick 2:27 pm on August 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ESO La Silla, ,   

    From Don Lincoln via CNN: “A new planet in our neighborhood — how likely is life?” 

    1
    CNN

    August 24, 2016

    1
    Dr. Don Lincoln is a senior physicist at Fermilab and does research using the Large Hadron Collider. He has written numerous books and produces a series of science education videos. He is the author of Alien Universe: Extraterrestrial Life in Our Minds and in the Cosmos. Follow him on Facebook. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

    Space. The final frontier.

    These words inspired many young people to enter science (including me), but I’ll bet that’s especially true for the team who announced Wednesday that they had found evidence of an Earth-like planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, our closest star. This planet is tentatively called Proxima b.

    Pale Red Dot
    Pale Red Dot project at ESO

    Scientists working at the European Southern Observatory (ESO), using the La Silla telescope, claim to have discovered the closest exoplanet to Earth.

    ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at LaSilla
    ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at LaSilla, Chile

    Exoplanet, of course, means planets orbiting stars other than the Sun. Over 3,000 exoplanets have been discovered by facilities like the ESO and the Kepler orbiting observatory. Most of them are huge planets orbiting very near their star — Jupiter-like planets heated to temperatures guaranteed to sterilize them of life as we know it.

    In recent years, instrumentation has improved to the point that not only can individual planets be found, but even complete solar systems, consisting of many planets. This has been a heady time for planet hunters.

    The goal of those inspired by Star Trek’s opening words has not been to find planets, but to find planets that are like Earth — meaning at a temperature on which liquid water could be present and which could theoretically support some form of life. This is what astronomers call “the habitable zone.” In addition, we’d like to find a planet that is nearby.

    After all, space is huge and human spacecraft using current technology would take tens of thousands of years to get to even this, our closest celestial neighbor. To give a sense of scale, that’s longer than human civilization has existed. There are plans under discussion that might reduce travel time to a more manageable duration, even less than a single human lifespan.

    3
    Related article: Proxima b: Closest rocky planet to our solar system found

    Centauris Alpha Beta Proxima 27, February 2012. Skatebiker
    Centauris Alpha Beta Proxima 27, February 2012. Skatebiker

    So what might this newly discovered planet look like? Well, even though its temperature is thought to be such that liquid water could exist, you shouldn’t imagine a lush and verdant world, with lovely blue waters, sandy beaches, lush and green plants, with an excited alien fish occasionally breaching the waters. There are lots of reasons why these are unreasonable expectations.

    Setting aside the possibility of life for a moment, Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf, which is the most common type of star in the galaxy. Red dwarfs are much smaller than our Sun. For instance, Proxima Centauri is only about 1.5 times larger than Jupiter. Red dwarfs are very dim. For instance, in the visible spectrum that we use to see, Proxima Centauri gives off 0.0056% as much as light as the Sun.

    Most of the light given off by Proxima Centauri is in the infrared region, but even if you compare all of the light emitted by Proxima Centauri in all wavelengths to the amount emitted by the Sun, Proxima Centauri still emits only 0.17% as much light as our own life-giving stellar companion. The star also emits as much x-rays as our own Sun, but Proxima b is much closer to its stellar parent, so the surface receives far more x-rays than Earth.

    In addition to being a very dim star, Proxima Centauri is known to be a “flare star,” which means the star periodically gives off far more light than usual. During these flares, the x-ray emission can go up tenfold.

    Because of the star’s small size, a planet in the habitable zone will have to be in a very small orbit, taking under two weeks to complete a single orbit. Any planet that close to a star will be “tidally locked,” which means that one face of the planet will constantly face the star. This is just like the Earth and Moon, where we see only one side of the Moon throughout the course of the Month. Proxima Centauri’s planetary companion will likely have one side in perpetual daylight, while the other is in perpetual night.

    So what about life? Are there any chances that an alien lizard might bask in Proxima Centauri’s light or try to find shade under an alien tree? Well, given the instability of the light emitted by the parent star, the answer is likely no, although the real answer to that question is obviously something for observations to answer.

    Given the very dim light output of the star, it is likely that any hypothetical plants would have to be black, as black is the most light-absorbent color. “Sunlight” would be precious and evolution would drive alien plants to find ways to collect every bit of energy that falls on them.

    Realistically, the prospect of life is improbable. This planet is unlikely to be a haven for people trying to escape the ecological issues of Earth, so we should not view this discovery as a way to ignore our own ecosystem.

    Still, the question of extraterrestrial life is a fascinating one, so astronomers are devising techniques to look at the planet’s atmosphere. Certain chemicals, like oxygen or methane, cannot exist long in a planet’s atmosphere without being constantly replenished by living organisms. Observing them would be strong evidence for life.

    So, what’s the bottom line? First, the discovery, if confirmed is extremely exciting. The existence of a nearby planet in the habitable zone will perhaps increase the interest in efforts like Project Starshot, which aims to send microprobes to Proxima Centauri with a transit time of about twenty years. It may well be that this discovery will excite an entirely new generation of the prospect “to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:56 am on June 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ESO La Silla, MASCARA, Transiting exoplanets   

    From ESO: “New Exoplanet Hunter to be Sited at ESO’s La Silla Observatory” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    29 June 2016
    Ignas Snellen
    Leiden Observatory
    Postbus 9513
    2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands
    Email: snellen@strw.leidenuniv.nl

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

    1

    ESO has reached agreement with Leiden University in the Netherlands to site a station of MASCARA (the Multi-site All-Sky CAmerRA) at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. The contract was signed by ESO Director General Tim de Zeeuw and Geert de Snoo, Dean of the Faculty of Science at Leiden University.

    MASCARA is a planet-hunting instrument that will eventually consist of a number of individual stations operating at sites across the globe. Each station contains a battery of cameras which will monitor almost the entire sky visible from its location. Once all the stations have been installed, MASCARA will be able to provide almost all-sky coverage down to magnitude 8. Its main purpose is to find the brightest transiting exoplanets, but there are also a wealth of secondary science goals. MASCARA is expected to provide a catalogue of the brightest targets for future exoplanet characterisation missions.

    MASCARA is a standalone facility of small cameras, not mounted on a telescope.

    The first MASCARA station is already operating on the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands.

    Gran Telescopio  Canarias at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the island of La Palma, in the Canaries, Spain
    Gran Telescopio Canarias at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the island of La Palma, in the Canaries, Spain

    The second station, due to begin operation before the end of 2016, will take advantage of the excellent observing conditions at the La Silla site.

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

    ESO LaSilla
    LaSilla

    ESO VLT
    VLT

    ESO Vista Telescope
    VISTA

    ESO NTT
    NTT

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope

    ALMA Array
    ALMA

    ESO E-ELT
    E-ELT

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    Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) Telescope

     
  • richardmitnick 10:09 am on June 1, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO La Silla, Messier 54 (also known as NGC 6715),   

    From phys.org: “Dozens of new variable stars found in a dense globular cluster” 

    physdotorg
    phys.org

    June 1, 2016
    Tomasz Nowakowski

    1
    Messier 54 as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

    Located some 87,000 light years away, a dense globular cluster named Messier 54 (also known as NGC 6715) is a real gold mine for astronomers. Recently, an international team has discovered dozens of new variable stars in this cluster, improving the stellar census of Messier 54. The findings were presented in a paper* published online on May 23 on the arXiv pre-print server.

    The team, led by Roberto Figuera Jaimes of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), made use of the Danish 1.54 meter Telescope at ESO’s La Silla observatory in Chile in order to obtain high-precision photometry of the very crowded central region of Messier 54.

    ESO Danish 1.54 meter telescope at La Silla
    ESO Danish 1.54 meter telescope at La Silla

    They have analyzed the light curves of 1,405 stars in this stellar system. Their observations were highly successful, resulting in the discovery 67 new variable stars.

    “A total of 1,405 stars in the field covered by the reference image were statistically studied for variable star detection. (…) We discovered 67 new variable stars, which consist of 30 RR Lyrae, 21 long-period irregular, three semi-regular, one W Virginis, one eclipsing binary, and 11 unclassified stars,” the researchers wrote in the paper.

    RR Lyrae variables are pulsating horizontal branch stars of spectral class A or F, with a mass of around 0.5 solar masses. They are used as standard candles to measure extragalactic distances. Among the group of 30 newly detected stars of this class, the team was able to discern that 17 of them are pulsating in the fundamental mode, eight are pulsating in the first overtone, one is a double-mode pulsator and four remain with an uncertain subtype. The periods of the newly found stars in the RR Lyrae group range from 0.28 to 0.76 days with amplitudes between 0.06 and 1.69 mag.

    However, according to Jaimes and his colleagues, the most intriguing addition to the stellar catalog of Messier 54 is the W Virginis variable. The scientists noted that this star’s variation does not follow the pattern found for the other variable stars studied and classified in their work. They found a very well phased light curve with a period of about 14.8 days and an amplitude of 0.71 mag.

    “This is the only bright variable star on the blue side of the color-magnitude diagram far away from the red giant branch,” the paper reads.

    The scientists revealed that the amplitudes of 21 long-period irregular variables range from 0.05 to 0.46 mag, however they found no clear periods for these stars. According to the research, the amplitudes of the three semi-regular stars range from 0.04 to 0.45 mag and their periods span between 20 and 150 days. The eclipsing binary’s period was found to be approximately 0.2 days, while the amplitude of the deeper eclipse is of the order of 0.8 mag and the amplitude of the secondary eclipse equals 0.5 mag.

    The researchers concluded that their findings, especially regarding detecting new RR Lyrae variables, confirm that Messier 54 is of intermediate Oosterhoff type. The so-called ‘Oosterhoff groups’ are two populations of globular clusters, nearly as old as the universe itself, that have weak lines of metallic elements, though they differ in their metal abundances.

    *Science paper:
    Many new variable stars discovered in the core of the globular cluster NGC 6715 (M54) with EMCCD observations

    See the full article here .

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    About Phys.org in 100 Words

    Phys.org™ (formerly Physorg.com) is a leading web-based science, research and technology news service which covers a full range of topics. These include physics, earth science, medicine, nanotechnology, electronics, space, biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, mathematics and other sciences and technologies. Launched in 2004, Phys.org’s readership has grown steadily to include 1.75 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Phys.org publishes approximately 100 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. Quancast 2009 includes Phys.org in its list of the Global Top 2,000 Websites. Phys.org community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page set-up, RSS/XML feeds, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.

     
  • richardmitnick 12:52 pm on February 10, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ESO La Silla, , Reflection nebula   

    From ESO: “A Star’s Moment in the Spotlight” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    10 February 2016
    Richard Hook
    ESO Public Information Officer
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
    Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
    Email: rhook@eso.org

    ESO Reflection nebula IC2631

    A newly formed star lights up the surrounding cosmic clouds in this new image from ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. Dust particles in the vast clouds that surround the star HD 97300 diffuse its light, like a car headlight in enveloping fog, and create the reflection nebula IC 2631. Although HD 97300 is in the spotlight for now, the very dust that makes it so hard to miss heralds the birth of additional, potentially scene-stealing, future stars.

    The glowing region in this new image from the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope is a reflection nebula known as IC 2631.

    ESO 2.2 meter telescope with dome open
    MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope with dome open.

    These objects are clouds of cosmic dust that reflect light from a nearby star into space, creating a stunning light show like the one captured here. IC 2631 is the brightest nebula in the Chamaeleon Complex, a large region of gas and dust clouds that harbours numerous newborn and still-forming stars. The complex lies about 500 light-years away in the southern constellation of Chamaeleon.

    IC 2631 is illuminated by the star HD 97300, one of the youngest — as well as most massive and brightest — stars in its neighbourhood. This region is full of star-making material, which is made evident by the presence of dark nebulae noticeable above and below IC 2631 in this picture. Dark nebulae are so dense with gas and dust that they prevent the passage of background starlight.

    Despite its dominating presence, the heft of HD 97300 should be kept in perspective. It is a T Tauri star, the youngest visible stage for relatively small stars. As these stars mature and reach adulthood they will lose mass and shrink. But during the T Tauri phase these stars have not yet contracted to the more modest size that they will maintain for billions of years as main sequence stars.

    These fledging stars already have surface temperatures similar to their main sequence phase and accordingly, because T Tauri-phase objects are essentially jumbo versions of their later selves, they look brighter in their oversized youth than in maturity. They have not yet started to fuse hydrogen into helium in their cores, like normal main sequence stars, but are just starting to flex their thermal muscles by generating heat from contraction.

    Reflection nebula, like the one spawned by HD 97300, merely scatter starlight back out into space. Starlight that is more energetic, such as the ultraviolet radiation pouring forth from very hot new stars, can ionise nearby gas, making it emit light of its own. These emission nebulae indicate the presence of hotter and more powerful stars, which in their maturity can be observed across thousands of light-years. HD 97300 is not so powerful, and its moment in the spotlight is destined not to last.

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

    ESO LaSilla
    LaSilla

    ESO VLT
    VLT

    ESO Vista Telescope
    VISTA

    ESO NTT
    NTT

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope

    ALMA Array
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  • richardmitnick 2:12 pm on December 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ESO La Silla, Rocky Planet Found Around Star with Least Metal Yet,   

    From SPACE.com: “Rocky Planet Found Around Star with Least Metal Yet” 

    space-dot-com logo

    SPACE.com

    December 25, 2015
    Jesse Emspak

    Temp 1
    Neptune-size planets like this one, drawn orbiting the star Gliese 436, may be able to form around stars that contain far less metal than previously thought. Credit: NASA

    How low can you go? Astronomers have found a star with an incredibly low concentration of heavy elements that still has a sizable planet around it — the most metal-poor star ever discovered with an orbiting, rocky planet.

    The planet found circling the unlikely star suggests that other Earths could be more common than once thought.

    A team led by Annelies Mortier, an exoplanet researcher at the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom, found the star, called HD175607, and its Neptune-size planet about 147 light-years from Earth, using the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) spectrograph in Chile.

    ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at LaSilla
    ESO HARPS
    ESO HARPS at La Silla

    ESO LaSilla
    ESO/La Silla

    The star is a yellowish dwarf, with about 0.74 times the mass of the sun, and it contains fewer heavy elements than any other star of its kind that has rocky planets. The ratio of iron to hydrogen, for example, is only 23 percent that of the sun’s.

    To make planets, you need elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. In astronomical parlance, these elements are known as metals, even though they include substances like oxygen, silicon and carbon. Astronomers can measure a star’s metallicity, or the ratio of heavy elements to hydrogen, by looking at the wavelengths of light coming from the star and comparing its metal content to the surrounding regions of the galaxy. The metallicity of a star also tells you what was likely in the cloud of gas and dust that formed it in the first place.

    Researchers generally expect stars with high metallicity to be more likely to have giant planets like Jupiter — in fact, astronomers target such stars in order to boost the odds of seeing a planet, Mortier told Space.com in an email. But for rocky, Neptune-size planets and those that are smaller, that correlation doesn’t appear to hold. That’s why the HARPS is looking at low-metallicity stars to see how low that ratio can go before the star no longer has planets at all.

    “For Neptunes and Earthlike planets, it is not as clear yet what the role of metallicity is,” Mortier said.

    In this case, the star HD175607 appears to have a planet orbiting it at a distance that’s about a third of Mercury’s to the sun. It completes a “year” of orbit in 29 days and weighs between 7.88 and 10.08 times as much as Earth, putting it at about two-thirds the mass of Neptune — which has a mass that’s about 17 times that of Earth’s.

    Planets are hard to see to begin with; finding the one around HD 175607 took months of observations spread out over nine years. The researchers had a much easier time measuring the star’s metallicity.

    Knowing what kinds of stars to target would go far toward helping observers discover other Earths — and a big question that remains is what kinds of planets are around what kinds of stars, Mortier said.

    Jarrett Johnson, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who has studied exoplanets and their relation to metallicity, told Space.com that this discovery of a rocky planet around a metal-poor star bodes well for finding more of them.

    “This is good news as it is evidence that lower and lower mass planets are being found around metal-poor stars, as more data is gathered with more powerful techniques [like HARPS],” he said.

    The discovery will also help refine models of planet formation. Currently, many scientists think that planets form when smaller objects group into bigger ones, which is called the core accretion model. In a 2012 study, Johnson worked out estimates of how much iron and other heavy elements had to be present to accrete planets, and new discoveries like this one could show whether those estimates are correct.

    The study was accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics in November.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:27 am on October 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO La Silla   

    From ESO: “A Cosmic Sackful of Black Coal” 


    European Southern Observatory

    14 October 2015

    Richard Hook
    ESO education and Public Outreach Department
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
    Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
    Email: rhook@eso.org

    Part of the Coalsack Nebula in close-up

    1

    Dark smudges almost block out a rich star field in this new image captured by the Wide Field Imager [WFI] camera, installed on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile.

    ESO WFI LaSilla
    WFI

    ESO 2.2 meter telescope
    ESO 2.2 meter telescope interior
    MPG/ESO 2.2 millimeter telescope at LaSilla

    The inky areas are small parts of a huge dark nebula known as the Coalsack, one of the most prominent objects of its kind visible to the unaided eye. Millions of years from now, chunks of the Coalsack will ignite, rather like its fossil fuel namesake, with the glow of many young stars.

    The Coalsack Nebula is located about 600 light-years away in the constellation of Crux (The Southern Cross). This huge, dusky object forms a conspicuous silhouette against the bright, starry band of the Milky Way and for this reason the nebula has been known to people in the southern hemisphere for as long as our species has existed.

    The Spanish explorer Vicente Yáñez Pinzón first reported the existence of the Coalsack Nebula to Europe in 1499. The Coalsack later garnered the nickname of the Black Magellanic Cloud, a play on its dark appearance compared to the bright glow of the two Magellanic Clouds, which are in fact satellite galaxies of the Milky Way. These two bright galaxies are clearly visible in the southern sky and came to the attention of Europeans during Ferdinand Magellan’s explorations in the 16th century. However, the Coalsack is not a galaxy. Like other dark nebulae, it is actually an interstellar cloud of dust so thick that it prevents most of the background starlight from reaching observers.

    A significant number of the dust particles in dark nebulae have coats of frozen water, nitrogen, carbon monoxide and other simple organic molecules. The resulting grains largely prevent visible light from passing through the cosmic cloud. To get a sense of how truly dark the Coalsack is, back in 1970, the Finnish astronomer Kalevi Mattila published a study estimating that the Coalsack has only about 10 percent of the brightness of the encompassing Milky Way. A little bit of background starlight, however, still manages to get through the Coalsack, as is evident in the new ESO image and in other observations made by modern telescopes.

    The little light that does make it through the nebula does not come out the other side unchanged. The light we see in this image looks redder than it ordinarily would. This is because the dust in dark nebulae absorbs and scatters blue light from stars more than red light, tinting the stars several shades more crimson than they would otherwise be.

    Millions of years in the future the Coalsack’s dark days will come to an end. Thick interstellar clouds like the Coalsack contain lots of dust and gas — the fuel for new stars. As the stray material in the Coalsack coalesces under the mutual attraction of gravity, stars will eventually light up, and the coal “nuggets” in the Coalsack will “combust”, almost as if touched by a flame.

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

    ESO LaSilla
    LaSilla

    ESO VLT Interferometer
    VLT

    ESO Vista Telescope
    VISTA

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope

    ALMA Array
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    E-ELT

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    Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) Telescope

     
  • richardmitnick 9:01 am on September 16, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ESO La Silla   

    From ESO: “A Shy Galactic Neighbour” 


    European Southern Observatory

    16 September 2015
    Richard Hook
    ESO education and Public Outreach Department
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
    Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
    Email: rhook@eso.org

    1

    The Sculptor Dwarf Galaxy, pictured in this new image from the Wide Field Imager [WFI]camera, installed on the 2.2-metre MPG/ESO telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory [see below], is a close neighbour of our galaxy, the Milky Way.

    ESO WFI LaSilla
    WFI

    ESO 2.2 meter telescope
    ESO 2.2 meter telescope interior
    2.2-metre MPG/ESO telescope

    Despite their close proximity, both galaxies have very distinct histories and characters. This galaxy is much smaller and older than the Milky Way, making it a valuable subject for studying both star and galaxy formation in the early Universe. However, due to its faintness, studying this object is no easy task.

    The Sculptor Dwarf Galaxy — also known as the Sculptor Dwarf Elliptical or the Sculptor Dwarf Spheroidal — is a dwarf spheroidal galaxy, and is one of the fourteen known satellite galaxies orbiting the Milky Way [1]. These galactic hitchhikers are located close by in the Milky Way’s extensive halo, a spherical region extending far beyond our galaxy’s spiral arms. As indicated by its name, this galaxy is located in the southern constellation of Sculptor and lies about 280 000 light-years away from Earth. Despite its proximity, the galaxy was only discovered in 1937, as its stars are faint and spread thinly across the sky.

    Although difficult to pick out, the Sculptor Dwarf Galaxy was among the first faint dwarf galaxies found orbiting the Milky Way. The tiny galaxy’s shape intrigued astronomers at the time of its discovery, but nowadays dwarf spheroidal galaxies play a more important role in allowing astronomers to dig deeply into the Universe’s past.

    The Milky Way, like all large galaxies, is thought to have formed from the build-up of smaller galaxies during the early days of the Universe. If some of these small galaxies still remain today, they should now contain many extremely old stars. The Sculptor Dwarf Galaxy fits the bill as a primordial galaxy, thanks to a large number of ancient stars, visible in this image.

    Astronomers can determine the age of stars in the galaxy because their light carries the signatures of only a small quantity of heavy chemical elements. These heavy elements accumulate in galaxies with successive generations of stars. A low level of heavy elements thus indicates that the average age of the stars in the Sculptor Dwarf Galaxy is high.

    This quantity of old stars makes the Sculptor Dwarf Galaxy a prime target for studying the earliest periods of star formation. In a recent study, astronomers combined all the data available for the galaxy to create the most accurate star formation history ever determined for a dwarf spheroidal galaxy. This analysis revealed two distinct groups of stars in the galaxy. The first, predominant group is the older population, which is lacking in heavier elements. The second, smaller population, in contrast, is rich with heavy elements. Like young people crowding into city centres, this youthful stellar population is concentrated toward the galaxy’s core.

    The stars within dwarf galaxies like the Sculptor Dwarf Galaxy can exhibit complex star formation histories. But as most of these dwarf galaxies’ stars have been isolated from each other and have not interacted for billions of years, each collection of stars has charted its own evolutionary course. Studying the similarities in dwarf galaxies’ histories, and explaining the occasional outliers, will help to explain the development of all galaxies, from the most unassuming dwarf to the grandest spirals. There is indeed much for astronomers to learn from the Milky Way’s shy neighbours.
    Notes

    [1] This faint galaxy should not be confused with the much brighter Sculptor Galaxy (NGC 253) in the same constellation.

    3
    The Sculptor Galaxy taken with the ESO VISTA telescope [see below] at the Paranal Observatory in Chile.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:23 am on August 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO La Silla   

    From ESO: “Sibling Stars” 


    European Southern Observatory

    19 August 2015
    Richard Hook
    ESO Public Information Officer
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
    Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
    Email: rhook@eso.org

    1

    Open star clusters like the one seen here are not just perfect subjects for pretty pictures. Most stars form within clusters and these clusters can be used by astronomers as laboratories to study how stars evolve and die. The cluster captured here by the Wide Field Imager (WFI) at ESO’s La Silla Observatory is known as IC 4651, and the stars born within it now display a wide variety of characteristics.

    The loose speckling of stars in this new ESO image is the open star cluster IC 4651, located within the Milky Way, in the constellation of Ara (The Altar), about 3000 light-years away. The cluster is around 1.7 billion years old — making it middle-aged by open cluster standards. IC 4651 was discovered by Solon Bailey, who pioneered the establishment of observatories in the high dry sites of the Andes, and it was catalogued in 1896 by the Danish–Irish astronomer John Louis Emil Dreyer.

    The Milky Way is known to contain over a thousand of these open clusters, with more thought to exist, and many have been studied in great depth. Observations of star clusters like these have furthered our knowledge of the formation and evolution of the Milky Way and the individual stars within it. They also allow astronomers to test their models of how stars evolve.

    The stars in IC 4651 all formed around the same time out of the same cloud of gas [1]. These sibling stars are only bound together very loosely by their attraction to one another and also by the gas between them. As the stars within the cluster interact with other clusters and clouds of gas in the galaxy around them, and as the gas between the stars is either used up to form new stars or blown away from the cluster, the cluster’s structure begins to change. Eventually, the remaining mass in the cluster becomes small enough that even the stars can escape. Recent observations of IC 4651 showed that the cluster contains a mass of 630 times the mass of the Sun [2] and yet it is thought that it initially contained at least 8300 stars, with a total mass 5300 times that of the Sun.

    As this cluster is relatively old, a part of this lost mass will be due to the most massive stars in the cluster having already reached the ends of their lives and exploded as supernovae. However, the majority of the stars that have been lost will not have died, but merely moved on. They will have been stripped from the cluster as it passed by a giant gas cloud or had a close encounter with a neighbouring cluster, or even simply drifted away.

    A fraction of these lost stars may still be gravitationally bound to the cluster and surround it at a great distance. The remaining lost stars will have migrated away from the cluster to join others, or have settled elsewhere in the busy Milky Way. The Sun was probably once part of a cluster like IC 4651, until it and all its siblings were gradually separated and spread across the Milky Way.

    This image was taken using the Wide Field Imager [WFI]. This camera is permanently mounted at the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory. It consists of several CCD detectors with a total of 67 million pixels and can observe an area as large as the full Moon. The instrument allows observations from visible light to the near infrared, with more than 40 filters available. For this image, only three of these filters were used.

    ESO Wide Field Imager 2.2m LaSilla
    WFI

    ESO 2.2 meter telescope
    ESO 2.2 meter telescope interior
    MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope
    Notes

    [1] Although many of the stars captured here belong to IC 4651, most of the very brightest in the picture actually lie between us and the cluster and most of the faintest ones are more distant.

    [2] This quantity is in fact much larger than the numbers quoted by previous studies which surveyed smaller regions, leaving out many of the cluster’s stars that lie further from its core.

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

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  • richardmitnick 5:43 am on July 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ESO La Silla   

    From ESO: “First Detection of Lithium from an Exploding Star” 


    European Southern Observatory

    29 July 2015
    Luca Izzo
    Sapienza University of Rome/ICRANet
    Pescara, Italy
    Email: luca.izzo@gmail.com

    Massimo Della Valle
    INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte
    Naples, Italy
    Email: dellavalle@na.astro.it

    Luca Pasquini
    ESO
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6792
    Email: lpasquin@eso.org

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

    1

    The chemical element lithium has been found for the first time in material ejected by a nova. Observations of Nova Centauri 2013 made using telescopes at ESO’s La Silla Observatory, and near Santiago in Chile, help to explain the mystery of why many young stars seem to have more of this chemical element than expected. This new finding fills in a long-missing piece in the puzzle representing our galaxy’s chemical evolution, and is a big step forward for astronomers trying to understand the amounts of different chemical elements in stars in the Milky Way.

    The light chemical element lithium is one of the few elements that is predicted to have been created by the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago. But understanding the amounts of lithium observed in stars around us today in the Universe has given astronomers headaches. Older stars have less lithium than expected [1], and some younger ones up to ten times more [2].

    Since the 1970s, astronomers have speculated that much of the extra lithium found in young stars may have come from novae — stellar explosions that expel material into the space between the stars, where it contributes to the material that builds the next stellar generation. But careful study of several novae has yielded no clear result up to now.

    A team led by Luca Izzo (Sapienza University of Rome, and ICRANet, Pescara, Italy) has now used the FEROS instrument on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory, as well the PUCHEROS spectrograph on the ESO 0.5-metre telescope at the Observatory of the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile in Santa Martina near Santiago, to study the nova Nova Centauri 2013 (V1369 Centauri). This star exploded in the southern skies close to the bright star Beta Centauri in December 2013 and was the brightest nova so far this century — easily visible to the naked eye [3].

    ESO FEROS
    FEROS

    The very detailed new data revealed the clear signature of lithium being expelled at two million kilometres per hour from the nova [4]. This is the first detection of the element ejected from a nova system to date.

    Co-author Massimo Della Valle (INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte, Naples, and ICRANet, Pescara, Italy) explains the significance of this finding: “It is a very important step forward. If we imagine the history of the chemical evolution of the Milky Way as a big jigsaw, then lithium from novae was one of the most important and puzzling missing pieces. In addition, any model of the Big Bang can be questioned until the lithium conundrum is understood.”

    The mass of ejected lithium in Nova Centauri 2013 is estimated to be tiny (less than a billionth of the mass of the Sun), but, as there have been many billions of novae in the history of the Milky Way, this is enough to explain the observed and unexpectedly large amounts of lithium in our galaxy.

    Authors Luca Pasquini (ESO, Garching, Germany) and Massimo Della Valle have been looking for evidence of lithium in novae for more than a quarter of a century. This is the satisfying conclusion to a long search for them. And for the younger lead scientist there is a different kind of thrill:

    “It is very exciting,” says Luca Izzo, “to find something that was predicted before I was born and then first observed on my birthday in 2013!”

    Notes

    [1] The lack of lithium in older stars is a long-standing puzzle. Results on this topic include these press releases: eso1428, eso1235 and eso1132.

    [2] More precisely, the terms “younger” and “older” are used to refer to what astronomers call Population I and Population II stars. The Population I category includes the Sun; these stars are rich in heavier chemical elements and form the disc of the Milky Way. Population II stars are older, with a low heavy-element content, and are found in the Milky Way Bulge and Halo, and globular star clusters. Stars in the “younger” Population I class can still be several billion years old!

    [3] These comparatively small telescopes, equipped with suitable spectrographs, are powerful tools for this kind of research. Even in the era of extremely large telescopes smaller telescopes dedicated to specific tasks can remain very valuable.

    [4] This high velocity, from the nova towards the Earth, means that the wavelength of the line in the absorption in the spectrum due to the presence of lithium is significantly shifted towards the blue end of the spectrum.

    This research was presented in a paper entitled Early optical spectra of Nova V1369 Cen show presence of lithium, by L. Izzo et al., published online in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

    The team is composed of Luca Izzo (Sapienza University of Rome, and ICRANet, Pescara, Italy), Massimo Della Valle (INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte, Naples; ICRANet, Pescara, Italy), Elena Mason (INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Trieste, Trieste, Italy), Francesca Matteucci (Universitá di Trieste, Trieste, Italy), Donatella Romano (INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Bologna, Bologna, Italy), Luca Pasquini (ESO, Garching bei Munchen, Germany), Leonardo Vanzi (Department of Electrical Engineering and Center of Astro Engineering, PUC-Chile, Santiago, Chile), Andres Jordan (Institute of Astrophysics and Center of Astro Engineering, PUC-Chile, Santiago, Chile), José Miguel Fernandez (Institute of Astrophysics, PUC-Chile, Santiago, Chile), Paz Bluhm (Institute of Astrophysics, PUC-Chile, Santiago, Chile), Rafael Brahm (Institute of Astrophysics, PUC-Chile, Santiago, Chile), Nestor Espinoza (Institute of Astrophysics, PUC-Chile, Santiago, Chile) and Robert Williams (STScI, Baltimore, Maryland, USA).

    Research Paper

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

    ESO LaSilla
    LaSilla

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    VLT

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    VISTA

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  • richardmitnick 11:08 am on July 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ESO La Silla   

    From ESO: “Jupiter Twin Discovered Around Solar Twin” 


    European Southern Observatory

    15 July 2015
    Megan Bedell
    University of Chicago
    USA
    Tel: +1 518 488 9348
    Email: mbedell@oddjob.uchicago.edu

    Jorge Meléndez
    Universidade de São Paulo
    Brazil
    Tel: +55 11 3091 2840
    Email: jorge.melendez@iag.usp.br

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

    1

    An international group of astronomers has used the ESO 3.6-metre telescope to identify a planet just like Jupiter orbiting at the same distance from a Sun-like star, HIP 11915. According to current theories, the formation of Jupiter-mass planets plays an important role in shaping the architecture of planetary systems. The existence of a Jupiter-mass planet in a Jupiter-like orbit around a Sun-like star opens the possibility that the system of planets around this star may be similar to our own Solar System. HIP 11915 is about the same age as the Sun and, furthermore, its Sun-like composition suggests that there may also be rocky planets orbiting closer to the star.

    ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at LaSilla
    ESO 3.6 meter telescope with HARPS at LaSilla

    So far, exoplanet surveys have been most sensitive to planetary systems that are populated in their inner regions by massive planets, down to a few times the mass of the Earth [1]. This contrasts with our Solar System, where there are small rocky planets in the inner regions and gas giants like Jupiter farther out.

    According to the most recent theories, the arrangement of our Solar System, so conducive to life, was made possible by the presence of Jupiter and the gravitational influence this gas giant exerted on the Solar System during its formative years. It would seem, therefore, that finding a Jupiter twin is an important milestone on the road to finding a planetary system that mirrors our own.

    A Brazilian-led team has been targeting Sun-like stars in a bid to find planetary systems similar to our Solar System. The team has now uncovered a planet with a very similar mass to Jupiter [2], orbiting a Sun-like star, HIP 11915, at almost exactly the same distance as Jupiter. The new discovery was made using HARPS, one of the world’s most precise planet-hunting instruments, mounted on the ESO 3.6-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.

    Although many planets similar to Jupiter have been found [3] at a variety of distances from Sun-like stars, this newly discovered planet, in terms of both mass and distance from its host star, and in terms of the similarity between the host star and our Sun, is the most accurate analogue yet found for the Sun and Jupiter.

    The planet’s host, the solar twin HIP 11915, is not only similar in mass to the Sun, but is also about the same age. To further strengthen the similarities, the composition of the star is similar to the Sun’s. The chemical signature of our Sun may be partly marked by the presence of rocky planets in the Solar System, hinting at the possibility of rocky planets also around HIP 11915.

    According to Jorge Melendez, of the Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil, the leader of the team and co-author of the paper, “the quest for an Earth 2.0, and for a complete Solar System 2.0, is one of the most exciting endeavors in astronomy. We are thrilled to be part of this cutting-edge research, made possible by the observational facilities provided by ESO.” [4]

    Megan Bedell, from the University of Chicago and lead author of the paper, concludes: “After two decades of hunting for exoplanets, we are finally beginning to see long-period gas giant planets similar to those in our own Solar System thanks to the long-term stability of planet hunting instruments like HARPS. This discovery is, in every respect, an exciting sign that other solar systems may be out there waiting to be discovered.”

    Follow-up observations are needed to confirm and constrain the finding, but HIP 11915 is one of the most promising candidates so far to host a planetary system similar to our own.

    Notes

    [1] The current detection techniques are more sensitive to large or massive planets close to their host stars. Small and low-mass planets are mostly beyond our current capabilities. Giant planets that orbit far from their host star are also more difficult to detect. Consequently, many of the exoplanets we currently know are large and/or massive, and close to their stars.

    [2] The planet was discovered by measuring the slight wobble it imposes on its host star while orbiting around it. As the inclination of the planet’s orbit is not known, only a lower limit to its mass can be estimated. Note that the activity of the star, which is linked to the variations of its magnetic field, could possibly mimic the signal that is interpreted as the signature of the planet. The astronomers have performed all the known tests to investigate this possibility, but it is currently impossible to completely rule it out.

    [3] An example of another Jupiter Twin is the one around HD 154345, described here.

    [4] Since the signature of the Brazilian accession agreement in December 2010, Brazilian astronomer have had full access to the ESO observing facilities.

    More information

    This research was presented in a paper entitled The Solar Twin Planet Search II. A Jupiter twin around a solar twin, by M. Bedell et al., to appear in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

    The team is composed of M. Bedell (Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA; Visiting Researcher at the Departamento de Astronomia do IAG/USP, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil), J. Meléndez (Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil), J. L. Bean (Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Chicago), I. Ramírez (McDonald Observatory and Department of Astronomy, University of Texas, Austin, Texas, USA), M. Asplund (Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, The Australian National University, Weston, Australia), A. Alves-Brito (Instituto de Fisica, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil), L. Casagrande (Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Australia), S. Dreizler (Institut für Astrophysik, University of Göttingen, Germany), T. Monroe (Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil), L. Spina (Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil) and M. Tucci Maia (Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil).

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
    STEM Icon

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    Visit ESO in Social Media-

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

    ESO LaSilla
    LaSilla

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    VLT

    ESO Vista Telescope
    VISTA

    ESO VLT Survey telescope
    VLT Survey Telescope

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