The European Very Large Telescope (VLT), one of the most powerful and productive ground-based astronomical facilities in existence, has just turned 15 years old.
Built on top of Cerro Paranal in Chile, the VLT is one of the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) main astronomical facilities.
It was indeed 15 years ago, on 25 May 1998, that the first of the VLT Unit Telescopes saw its ‘first light’. Since then, the four original giant telescopes (each 8.2 metres in diameter) have been joined by four small Auxiliary Telescopes (1.8 metres) that form part of the VLT Interferometer (VLTI).
Here is a short gallery of beautiful images collected over the last few years by the famous observatory. These, though, are just appetisers for astronomers compared to what will be available in the future… The ESO, an intergovernmental organisation dedicated to astronomy supported by 15 countries, plans soon to build a fourth observatory in the Southern Hemisphere.
It is currently planning the 39-metre European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become ‘the world’s biggest eye on the sky’. This new giant should commence operation in early 2020.
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To be a meteorite hunter means to search for the unutterably rare. On any given patch of land the size of Wales, an average of two olive-sized space rocks will fall in a year. Scientists and collectors are forced to go to extreme lengths to find them, searching in deserts and Antarctica where they have a chance of spotting the stones against a plain background. But if that sounds like a challenge, then how about hunting meteorites that fell to Earth millions of years ago?
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Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.