One of the world’s most sophisticated optical instruments, the Very Large Telescope (VLT) based in Chile’s Atacama Desert, celebrated its 15th year of successful operation this May.
This memorable anniversary commemorated the unveiling of the first of the VLT’s four unit telescopes on May 25, 1998. Besides the original telescopes, the VLT now incorporates four smaller Auxiliary Telescopes that comprise the VLT Interferometer, or VLTI.
In honor of over a decade of productivity, ESO compiled a stellar slideshow with some of the most riveting images captured by VLT during its functioning. The slideshow includes otherworldly images of the Galactic Starburst Region, the Orion Nebula, the Sombrero Galaxy, and the Horsehead Nebula among others.
The VLT’s first 15 years have proved it to be one of the most productive optical instruments on the planet. In 2012 alone more than 600 scientific papers were published based on data that the VLT and VLTI had collected.
The VLT is located 8,645 ft (2,635 metres) above sea level at Cerro Paranal, around 70 miles (120 kms) south of Antofagasta in northern Chile. With almost non-existent humidity, minimal light pollution, and high altitude, astronomers revere the Atacama Desert as the most ideal place on the planet to view the universe.
The VLT is operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), an intergovernmental organization comprised of 15 European nations. ESO provides astronomers all over the globe with a window into the Southern Hemisphere’s skies.
Beyond the VLT, ESO has chosen Chile to be the base of other tremendous projects like the European – Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), and most recently the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), officially inaugurated this March.
As the world’s premier location for astronomers, Chile is currently home to almost half the world’s telescope infrastructure, a figure that is set to increase to over two thirds in the next decade.