In the Atacama

Chile's Very Large Telescope takes unprecedented galactic photos

For the first time, a large telescope has managed to capture three distant galaxies in the one image.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011  
The photo is an unprecendented view of three galaxies. The photo is an unprecendented view of three galaxies.

In  a world first, astronomers at the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Paranal facility in northern Chile's Atacama Desert have captured an image of three distinct galaxies.

The unprecedented photo was taken using the powerful 2.6-meter, 286 megapixel OmegaCAM camera in the Paranal Observatory's VLT [Very Large Telescope] Survey Telescope (VST).

The image portrays the three galaxies from the Leo Constellation, located about 35 million light years  form the Earth, in sharp focus.

Normally, large telescopes can only focus on one galaxy at a time but the VST has a much larger field of vision, about twice the width of the full moon, enabling it to frame the three star clusters in the one image. According to the astronomers, it is the only telescope in the world capable of obtaining such a photo.

The thre galaxies captured by the VST are spiral galaxies, just like the Milky Way, although this is not obvious in the picture because they are tilted at different angles to our line of sight.

The image also reveals a number of weaker and more distant galaxies which appear as faint smudges in the background.

The VST is the newest telescope at the ESO's Paranal Observatory. It is dedicated to mapping the frontiers of outer space using visible light and is the largest telescope of its kind in the world.

Astronomers hope that further images taken using the telescope's massive camera will help to broaden their understanding of the mysterious phenomenon of dark matter and dark energy.

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