Wallpaper Wednesday (Snow at ESO’s Paranal)

26 12 2012
Dark Sky and White Desert. Photo credit: ESO/Yuri Beletsky

Dark Sky and White Desert. Photo credit: ESO/Yuri Beletsky

It’s difficult to find a snowy shot of the observatory at Cerro Paranal. The air is so dry in the Atacama Desert that precipitation is a rarity, even at the elevation of 2,600 meters (8,500 feet). In addition to the domes of the VLT, this wintry scene includes a satellite trail and a meteor trail. Such good fortune for a photographer!

Right click on the image to download an image for your computer desktop (right sidebar of the ESO page).





Wallpaper Wednesday (Submillimetre Astronomy)

14 11 2012

Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX), Chajnantor Observatory, Chile. Photo credit: ESO/H.H.Heyer

Operating on the theory that I am eventually going to finish writing my first book, I’ve begun doing research for my next large project, on early twentieth-century solar and radio observatories. Flipping through the articles on my desk, I ran across one from the 1960s about instruments for observing in the submillimetre wavelength range.[1] Reading it prompted me to wonder if there was any recent news about the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope. The search for news from APEX led me to today’s wallpaper.

Every time I visit the ESO website, I’m newly impressed with the online archive. I’ve commented on the image collection before, but the instrument documentation is superb as well. So, too, is the video archive. If you want to learn more about millimetre and submillimetre observations, check out the APEX trailer. Or, you can watch it just because it’s beautiful.

 

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Click on the image at the head of this post to download the wallpaper.
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[1] A. E. Salomonovich, “Some Problems and Instrumental Features of Submillimetre Astronomy,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Vol. 264, No. 1150, A Discussion on Infrared Astronomy (Apr. 24, 1969), pp.
283-291.





Wallpaper Wednesday

17 10 2012

Milky Way, Southern Cross, alpha Centauri, Carina Nebula. Photo credit: A. Fujii

Threaded through the partisan bickering during the debates on twitter last night was a string of tweets discussing ESO’s discovery of a planet in the Alpha Centauri system.[1] According to ESO’s press release, the planet was detected through the observation of “wobbles” in Alpha Centauri B’s path of motion. Astronomers speculated that the gravitational pull of an orbiting body was generating the irregularities. Putting the HARPS instrument on the 3.6-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory to work on the problem, they discovered a planet with an orbital period of 3.2 days. The twitter is excited because Alpha Centauri B is a lot like our Sun and the newly discovered planet has the same mass as Earth—the theory being that our planetary twin has been discovered orbiting the star closest to our solar system. I’m not too worked up about the twinning possibilities, but I do think it’s cool that HARPS is doing exactly what it was supposed to do: find new planets.

In related news, I was intrigued by NASA’s response to ESO’s announcement. It’s as if they’re taking the discovery of the new planet a bit personally. Their press release, ostensibly a statement of congratulations to ESO on its accomplishment, reads more like an attempt to stake a claim on exoplanets of the universe. “We, too, have exoplanet finding capabilities! We have Hubble! We have Kepler! We have the James Webb Space Telescope!”

Click on the image to download wallpaper.

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[1] Two stars comprise the Alpha Centauri system, Alpha Centauri A & B. They are indistinguishable to the naked eye, so we usually refer to them in the singular, as in “Alpha Centauri, the brightest star in the constellation Centaurus.”





ESO at 50

3 10 2012

On October 5, 2012, ESO will host a live 6-hour broadcast of “A Day in the Life of ESO” as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations. This is your chance to view real-time observations made from the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Cerro Paranal. You can submit questions in advance of the broadcast via twitter, fb, or e-mail. From the ESO website:

  • Send a tweet @ESO, also using the hashtag #ESO50years
  • Write a question on your Facebook wall in which you tag ESO’s Facebook page. To tag a page you must first “like” the page and then type @ESO Astronomy in your question. A menu will appear from where you have the option to choose our page, ESO Astronomy. See an example of a tag (“via ESO Astronomy”) on this post
  • Send an email to information@eso.org with the subject ESO50years. Optionally, please include your name and country.

The live broadcast runs from 11:00 to 17:00 CEST (that’s Madrid’s time zone, if you need a reference). So, six hours ahead of the eastern time zone in the U.S., seven hours ahead of the central time zone, etc.

Read the press announcement here.





Wallpaper Wednesday

3 10 2012

Celestial Conjunction at ESO. Image credit: ESO/Y. Beletsky

Today’s wallpaper, which shows the moon, Venus, and Jupiter having a conversation above  ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) celebrates two things: the observatory’s 50th anniversary and the publication of the book Europe to the Stars. ESO is second only to NASA in its release of images to the public, and in the realm of astrophotography, it dominates in its generosity. I could easily provide a wallpaper image a day just mining ESO’s extensive web collection, but where the fun be in that? You can waste as much time as I can digging through their archives.