Today marks the 10th anniversary since First Light with ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT), the most advanced optical telescope in the world. Since then, the VLT has evolved into a unique suite of four 8.2-m Unit Telescopes (UTs) equipped with no fewer than 13 state-of-the-art instruments, and four 1.8-m moveable Auxiliary Telescopes (ATs).
The telescopes can work individually, and they can also be linked together in groups of two or three to form a giant 'interferometer' (VLTI), allowing astronomers to see details corresponding to those from a much larger telescope.
"The Very Large Telescope array is a flagship facility for astronomy, a perfect science machine of which Europe can be very proud," says Tim de Zeeuw, ESO's Director General. "We have built the most advanced ground-based optical observatory in the world, thanks to the combination of a long-term adequately-funded instrument and technology development plan with an approach where most of the instruments were built in collaboration with institutions in the member states, with in-kind contributions in labour compensated by guaranteed observing time."
Sitting atop the 2600m high Paranal Mountain in the Chilean Atacama Desert, the VLT's design, suite of instruments, and operating principles set the standard for ground-based astronomy. It provides the European scientific community with a telescope array with collecting power significantly greater than any other facilities available at present, offering imaging and spectroscopy capabilities at visible and infrared wavelengths.
The first scientifically useful images, marking the official 'First Light' of the VLT, were obtained on the night of 25 to 26 May 1998, with a test camera attached to "Antu", Unit Telescope number 1. They were officially presented to the press on the 27 May, exactly ten years ago. Since then, all four Unit Telescopes and four Auxiliary Telescopes went into routine operations and the number of instruments has continued to grow, to fill all the possible positions in the telescopes where instruments can be attached.
In 2007, about 500 peer-reviewed papers using data collected with VLT and VLTI instruments at Paranal were published in scientific journals. Since the start of science operations, in April 1999, the VLT has led to the publication of more than 2200 refereed papers, an average of about one paper published every single working day.
"The combination of high operational efficiency, system reliability and uptime for scientific observations results in very high scientific productivity," says Andreas Kaufer, director of the La Silla Paranal Observatory.
The VLT and VLTI have contributed to all areas of astronomy, including the nature of dark matter and dark energy; the extreme physics of gamma-ray bursts and supernovae; the formation, structure and evolution of galaxies; the properties of exoplanets, Solar System objects, star clusters and stellar populations, the interstellar and intergalactic medium, and of super-massive black holes in galactic nuclei, in particular the one in the Galactic Centre; and the formation of stars and planets.
The stunning scientific success of the VLT has attracted new member states to ESO. In the past decade Portugal joined (in 2001, after a ten-year associate status), followed by the United Kingdom (2002), Finland (2004), Spain (2006) and the Czech Republic (2007). Austria also announced its intent to join later this year.
Another measure of success is the number of observing proposals made every year for the use of the VLT, which is now above the 1500 mark. On average, the amount of time requested to use the VLT is 6 times higher than what is available.
The VLT will continue to increase in power over the next decade. The first of the second-generation VLT instruments, X-Shooter, will come online this year, with KMOS, SPHERE and MUSE to follow, together with multiple laser guide stars, an adaptive secondary mirror on Yepun (UT4), and one or more third-generation instruments, including an ultra-stable high-resolution spectrograph at the combined focus. The VLTI will also be equipped with second-generation instruments.
Clearly, the VLT's story has only begun.
The VLT was designed from the start as an integrated system of four 8.2m telescopes, including the possibility to combine the light from individual telescopes for optical interferometry, enabling stupendous spatial resolution. First light on Antu occurred in May 1998, with Kueyen, Melipal and Yepun following soon after. Most of the VLT and VLTI instruments were built in close collaboration with institutes in the member states. The first-generation instrument suite was completed in 2007 with the commissioning of CRIRES. The Paranal arsenal includes turnkey adaptive optics systems and a rapid-response mode to react to fast transient events. Recently, the near-infrared imager HAWK-I was added as a 'generation-1.5' instrument.
Henri Boffin | alfa
Hope to discover sure signs of life on Mars? New research says look for the element vanadium
22.09.2017 | University of Kansas
22.09.2017 | Forschungszentrum MATHEON ECMath
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering
22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy