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The Great Easter Egg Hunt
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The Great Easter Egg Hunt

April 17, 2006

Easter is in many countries a time of great excitement for children who are on the big hunt for chocolate eggs, hidden all about the places. Astronomers, however, do not need to wait this special day to get such an excitement: it is indeed daily that they look for faraway objects concealed in deep images of the sky. And as with chocolate eggs, deep sky objects, such as galaxies, quasars or gravitational lenses, come in the wildest variety of colours and shapes.

The image presented here is one of such very deep image of the sky. It is the combination of 714 frames for a total exposure time of 64.5 hours obtained through four different filters (B, V, R, and I)! It consists of four adjacent Wide-Field Camera pointings (each 33x34 arcmin), covering a total area larger than one square degree.

Yet, if you were to look at this large portion of the firmament with the unaided eye, you would just see... nothing. The area, named Deep 3, was indeed chosen to be a random but empty, high galactic latitude field, positioned in such a way that it can be observed from the La Silla observatory all over the year.

Deep 3 is located in the Crater ('The Cup'), a southern constellation with very little interest (the brightest star is of fourth magnitude, i.e. only a factor six brighter than what a keen observer can see with the unaided eye), in between the Virgo, Corvus and Hydra constellations. Such comparatively empty fields provide an unusually clear view towards the distant regions in the Universe and thus open a window towards the earliest cosmic times. The deep imaging data can for example be used to pre-select objects by colour for follow-up spectroscopy with ESO's Very Large Telescope instruments.



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