Image Credit & Copyright: European Southern Observatory (ESO) Yuri Beletsky.
High atop the Paranal Observatory at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in the Atacama Desert of Chile, one of four 1.8 meter Auxiliary Telescopes (AT’s) raises its eyes to some of the clearest, driest skies on Earth. In the distance the Milky Way cuts across the night sky like a ship setting sail, on the horizon the telltale green sign of airglow.
I love the Milky Way in this image because the color and detail is preserved so well. The bright red pockets of star formation dot the plane along with the massive dust lanes shrouding the light of the nucleus from view, at least in optical light. Above the core of the galaxy you can clearly make out the red supergiant and the heart of the Scorpion, Antares.
These beautiful telescopes inject light into the massive Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI). These four troops can maneuver around the VLT deck like chess pieces to 30 different locations depending on the work required of them. They are all self-contained as the enclosure physically protects the instrument and the electronics, power supply and cooling system below act as a constant life support.
The four main VLT 8.2m Unit Telescopes (UTs) can, for a limited time every year, be used together to act as one massive telescope called the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI). Light from each telescope travels through underground tunnels of equal distance and is combined to produce images upward of 25 times finer than one of the VLT UT’s alone.
The 4 main UT’s have names as well. A contest was held and later won by 17 year old Jorssy Albanez Castilla from Chuquicamata, Chile. She chose to name the units in the local Mapuche language and they are;
UT1 “Antu = Sun”
UT2 “Kueyen = Moon”
UT3 “Melipal = Southern Cross”
UT4 “Yepun = Venus as the Evening Star.”
ESO page for this image: http://www.eso.org/public/usa/images/uhd_beletsky_par_24/