Very Large Telescope Celebrates 15 Years
May 23, 2013

ESO Celebrates 15th Anniversary Of VLT First Light

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Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) is celebrating 15 years of success for its Very Large Telescope (VLT).

ESO released an image taken by astronomers using VLT of a pink gas cloud known as IC 2944. The image resembles drops of ink floating in a strawberry cocktail, showing one of the interstellar clouds of dust and gas softly glowing pink.

VLT's image is the sharpest view of the cosmic object ever taken from the ground. The gas cloud lies about 6500 light-years away from Earth in the southern constellation of Centaurus in part of the sky that is home to many other nebulae.

Nebulae like IC2944 are composed mostly of hydrogen gas that glows in a distinctive shade of red, due to the intense radiation from the brilliant newborn stars. The dark clots are named after the Dutch-American astronomers Bart Bok, who first drew attention to them in the 1940s as possible sites of star formation.

ESO said Bok globules are not easy to study because they are opaque to visible light, so observations need to be done in infrared or in submillimeter parts of the spectrum. Studies like this of the Thackeray globules have confirmed that there is no current star formation within them.

Larger Bok globules in quieter locations often collapse to form new stars but the new ones such as IC2944 are under fierce bombardment from the ultraviolet radiation from nearby hot young stars.

The new image of IC2944 represents fifteen years since light on the first of VLT's four Unit Telescope began May 25, 1998.

"Since then the four original giant telescopes have been joined by the four small Auxiliary Telescopes that form part of the VLT Interferometer (VLTI)," ESO officials said. "The VLT is one of the most powerful and productive ground-based astronomical facilities in existence. In 2012 more than 600 refereed scientific papers based on data from the VLT and VLTI were published."

ESO released the first image of VLT's Survey Telescope (VST) in June 2011. This state-of-the-art telescope features a huge 268-megapixel camera designed to map the sky quickly and with very fine image quality.

In August 2012, VLT helped astronomers find a tranquil looking blue spiral galaxy named NGVC 1187. ESO researchers discovered NGC 1187 lying in the constellation of Eridanus, or The River. This galaxy is of interest to scientists because no matter how peaceful and unchanging it appears, two supernovae events have been recorded in it in the last 30 years.