In the Atacama

New images released by telescope in northern Chile

The VLT Survey Telescope’s first images offer a detailed glimpse of a star-forming region in the Milky Way and the sky’s largest globular cluster.

Friday, June 10, 2011  
The unprecedented views of the Swan Nebula and the Omega Centauri star cluster. The unprecedented views of the Swan Nebula and the Omega Centauri star cluster.

The newest telescope run by the European Southern Observatory out of Chile’s Atacama Desert has just released its first images. The unprecedented views of the Swan Nebula and the Omega Centauri star cluster were taken by the new VLT ( Very Large Telescope) Survey Telescope.. The first of these images – the star forming region, Messier 17, also known as the Swan Nebula – comes from deep within the Milky Way. The second is the most detailed ever taken of the Omega Centauri, the largest globular cluster in the sky, with over 300,000 stars included in the VST image.


Based at the Paranal Observatory, the VST is a 2.6-meter telescope armed with a 268-megapixel camera, called OmegaCAM. The wide-field telescope has a range of vision two times broader than the full moon, and is designed to create precise images of large portions of the southern skies quickly. The largest visible light telescope in the world, the VST has demonstrated with these first images the most detailed view available of the Swan Nebula and Omega Centauri star cluster.


The European Southern Observatory (ESO) operates several sophisticated telescopes in Chile’s high deserts, home to some of the clearest skies on earth and a sought after destination for research and developments in astronomy. The VST is the most recently opened among several other devices atop Paranal Hill. Other facilities are operated at La Silla and Chajnantor. According to Director of ESO Time de Zeeuw, the visible light images produced by the VST, combined with infrared images from other ESO telescopes will create opportunities for looking at objects in the southern sky with a new range of detail.


In the coming years, several in-depth surveys are planned using the new technologies available to ESO scientists. The first of these will use images from regions of the universe away from the Milky Way to analyze dark matter, dark energy and galaxy evolution; another will analyze similar forces on a broader scale in a larger swath of sky. Another survey will turn the VST back to the center of the Milky Way to create an anticipated catalogue of some 500 million celestial objects, including stars at all stages of their evolution.