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Paranal Sunset
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Paranal Sunset

February 5, 2013
Babak Tafreshi, an ESO Photo Ambassador, has captured a beautiful image of ESO’s Paranal Observatory illuminated by the sunset. The beautifully clear sky hints at the exceptional atmospheric conditions here; one major reason why ESO chose Paranal as the site of the Very Large Telescope (VLT), its flagship facility.

The VLT — which can be seen on Cerro Paranal, the highest peak in the image, with an altitude of 2600 meters — is the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory. It consists of four Unit Telescopes, each with a primary mirror 8.2 meters across, and four 1.8-meter Auxiliary Telescope. The VLT operates at visible and infrared wavelengths and among the pioneering observations carried out using the VLT have been the first direct image of an exoplanet and the tracking of stars orbiting the Milky Way’s central black hole.

Also on Cerro Paranal is the VLT Survey Telescope (VST). Its smaller enclosure can just be made out in front of one of the larger VLT Unit Telescope enclosures on the mountaintop. The VST is the most recent addition to Paranal, with the first images released in 2011. It sports a primary mirror 2.6 meters across, which makes it the largest telescope in the world designed for surveying the sky in visible light.

Another survey telescope at the Paranal Observatory is VISTA, the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy, which can be seen on another peak, in the foreground of Cerro Paranal. VISTA is the world’s largest survey telescope, with a 4.1-meter mirror, and operates at near-infrared wavelengths. The telescope started work in 2009.

Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi (twanight.org)



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