Wednesday, December 15, 2010

ESO’s Very Large Telescope ready for a long observing night

ESO’s Very Large Telescope ready for a long observing night
Click on the image to enlarge

As soon as the Sun sets over the Chilean Atacama Desert, ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) begins catching light from the far reaches of the Universe. The VLT has four 8.2-meter Unit Telescopes such as the one shown in the photograph. Many of the photons - particles of light - that are collected have travelled through space for billions of years before reaching the telescope's primary mirror. The giant mirror acts like a high-tech "light bucket", gathering as many photons as possible and sending them to sensitive detectors. Careful analysis of the data from these instruments allows astronomers to unravel the mysteries of the cosmos.
The telescopes have a variety of instruments, which allow them to observe in a range of wavelengths from near-ultraviolet to mid-infrared. The VLT also boasts advanced adaptive optics systems, which counteract the blurring effects of the Earth's atmosphere, producing images so sharp that they could almost have been taken in space.
Credit: ESO/José Francisco Salgado

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