Exploring Stars in Our Galaxy

This is the story of an epic adventure a
story of cosmic curiosity courage and
perseverance
the story of how Europe went south to
explore the Stars
welcome to ESO the European Southern
Observatory 50 years old but more vital
than ever
ESO is Europe’s portal to the stars here
astronomers from 15 countries joined
forces to unravel the secrets of the
universe how by building the largest
telescopes on earth
designing sensitive cameras and
instruments scrutinizing the heavens
their work has looked at objects near
and far from comets traversing the solar
system to distant galaxies at the very
edge of space and time giving us fresh
insight and an unprecedented view of the
universe
a universe of deep mysteries and hidden
secrets and staggering beauty from
remote mountaintops in Chile European
astronomers are reaching for the stars
but why Chile what made the astronomers
go south the European Southern
Observatory has its headquarters in
Garching Germany
but from Europe only part of the sky can
be seen to fill in the gaps you have to
travel south
for many centuries maps of the southern
sky showed extensive blank areas the
terra incognita of the heavens 1595 for
the first time Dutch traders set sail to
the East Indies
at night navigators Pieter Keyser and
Frederik de Houtman
measured the positions of more than a
hundred and thirty stars in the southern
sky
soon celestial Globes and maps showed
twelve new constellations none of which
had ever been seen before by any
European the British were the first to
construct a permanent astronomical
outpost in the southern hemisphere the
Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good
Hope was founded in 1820 not much later
John Herschel built his own private
observatory close to South Africa’s
famous Table Mountain
waterview dark skies bright clusters and
star clouds high overhead little wonder
that Harvard Yale and Leiden
observatories followed suit with their
own southern stations but the
exploration of the southern sky still
took lots of courage passion and
perseverance
until fifty years ago almost all major
telescopes were located north of the
Equator so why is the southern sky so
important well first of all because it
was largely uncharted territory you just
can’t see the whole sky from Europe a
prominent example is the centre of the
Milky Way our home galaxy it can hardly
be seen from the northern hemisphere but
from the south it passes high overhead
and then there are the Magellanic Clouds
too small companion galaxies to the
Milky Way invisible from the north but
very conspicuous if you’re south of the
Equator
and then finally European astronomers
were hindered by light pollution and
poor weather going south would solve
most of their problems a scenic boat
trip in the Netherlands June 1953 it was
here on the ice Almir that the german
american astronomer walter barr day and
the Dutch astronomer Yarn Oort told
colleagues about their plan for a
European Observatory in the southern
hemisphere individually no one European
country could compete with the United
States but together they might seven
months later twelve astronomers from six
countries gathered here in the stately
Senate room of Leiden University they
signed a statement expressing the desire
to establish a European Observatory in
South Africa this paved the way for the
birth of ESO but hang on South Africa
well it made sense of course South
Africa already had the caper berry and
after 1909 the Transvaal Observatory in
Johannesburg leiden observatory had its
own southern station in hartebeesport
in 1955 astronomers set up test
equipment to find the best possible spot
for a big telescope they call Hut in the
great karoo or Tafel copier near bluefin
Tyne but the weather was not all that
favorable around 1960 the focus shifted
to the rugged landscape of northern
Chile American astronomers were also
planning their own southern hemisphere
observatory here harsh horseback
expeditions revealed much better
conditions than in South Africa in 1963
the die was cast
chilly it would be six months later
Sarah Lucia was picked as the future
site of the european southern
observatory ESO was no longer a distant
dream in the end five European countries
signed the ESO convention on the 5th of
October 1962 the official birthday of
the European Southern Observatory
Belgium Germany France the Netherlands
and Sweden were firmly committed to
jointly reach for the southern stars
lasya and its surroundings were bought
from the Chilean government a road was
built in the middle of nowhere esos
first telescope took shape at a steel
company in Rotterdam
and in December 1966 the European
Southern Observatory opened its first
eye on the sky Europe had embarked on a
grand voyage of cosmic discovery
a hundred and sixty-seven thousand years
ago a star exploded in a small galaxy
orbiting the Milky Way at the time of
the distant explosion Homo sapiens just
started to roam the African savannah
but no one could have noticed the cosmic
fireworks as the blasts of light had
only just embarked on its long journey
towards Earth by the time light from the
supernova had completed 98% of its
journey Greek philosophers had just
started to think about the nature of the
cosmos just before the light reached
earth Galileo Galilei trained his first
primitive telescopes on the heavens and
on the 24th of February 1987 when
photons from the explosion finally
rained down on our planet astronomers
were ready to observe the supernova in
great detail supernova 1987a flared up
in the southern sky unobservable from
europe of united states but by this time
ISA had built its first big telescopes
in Chile providing astronomers with a
front-row seat to this cosmic spectacle
the telescope is of course the central
tool that allows us to unravel the
secrets of the universe telescopes
collect far more light than the unaided
human eye
so they reveal fainter stars and let us
peer deeper into space like magnifying
glasses they also show finer detail and
well equipped with sensitive cameras and
spectrographs they provide us with a
wealth of information about planets
stars and galaxies
ethos first telescopes on lesya were a
mixed bunch they ranged from small
national instruments to large Astro
graphs and wide fuel cameras
the 2.2 meter telescope now almost 30
years old is still producing some of the
most dramatic views of the cosmos
at the highest point of Cerro Lucia lies
the biggest achievement of ethos early
years the 3.6 metre telescope h35 it now
leads a second life as a planet hunter
also Swedish astronomers build a shiny
dish 15 metres across
to study microwaves from cool cosmic
clouds together these telescopes have
helped to unveil the universe in which
we live
earth is just one of eight planets in
the solar system from tiny mercury to
giant Jupiter these rocky spheres and
gaseous balls are the leftovers from the
formation of the Sun the Sun in turn is
a middle-of-the-road star in the Milky
Way galaxy one pinprick of light amidst
hundreds of billions of similar stars as
well as bloated red giants imploded
white dwarfs and rapidly spinning
neutron stars the spiral arms of the
Milky Way are sprinkled with glowing
nebulae spawning bright clusters of
newborn stars while old globular
clusters slowly swarm about the galaxy
and the Milky Way is just one of
countless galaxies in a vast universe
which has been expanding ever since the
Big Bang almost 14 billion years ago
over the past 50 years ESO has helped to
uncover our place in the universe and by
looking up we have also discovered our
own origins we are part of the big
cosmic story without stars we wouldn’t
be here the universe started out with
hydrogen and helium the two lightest
elements but stars are nuclear ovens
turning light elements into heavier ones
and supernovae like 1987a seed the
universe with the products of this
stellar alchemy
when the solar system formed some 4.6
billion years ago
it contained trace amounts of these
heavier elements metals and silicates
but also carbon and oxygen the carbon in
our muscles the iron in our blood and
the calcium in our bones were all forged
in an earlier generation of stars you
and I were literally made in heaven but
answers always lead to new questions the
more we learn the deeper the mysteries
become what is the origin and ultimate
fate of galaxies are there other solar
systems out there and could there be
life on alien worlds
and what lurks in the dark heart of our
Milky Way galaxy
astronomers were clearly in need of more
powerful telescopes and ESO provided
them with revolutionary new tools
bigger is better
at least when it comes to telescope
mirrors but larger mirrors have to be
thick so that they don’t deform under
their own weight and really large
mirrors deform anyway no matter how
thick and heavy they are the solution
thin lightweight mirrors and a magic
trick called active optics ESO pioneered
this technology in the late 1980s with
the new technology telescope and this is
the state of the art the mirrors of the
Very Large Telescope the VLT are eight
point two metres across but only twenty
centimeters thick and here’s the magic a
computer-controlled support system
ensures that the mirror keeps its
desired shape at all times to nanometre
precision
the VLT is esos flagship facility for
identical telescopes joining forces on
top of Cerro Paranal in the north of
Chile built in the late 1990s they
provided astronomers with the best
available technologies
in the middle of the Atacama Desert ESO
created an astronomers paradise
you
scientist stay in LA residencia a
guesthouse partly buried under the dirt
and rubble of one of the driest places
on the planet but inside our lush palm
trees a swimming pool and delicious
Chilean sweets
of course the unique selling point of
the Very Large Telescope is not its
swimming pool but its unequaled view of
the universe without thin mirrors and
active optics the VLT wouldn’t be
possible but there’s more stars appear
blurry even when observed with the best
and largest telescopes the reason the
Earth’s atmosphere distorts the images
enter the second magic trick adaptive
optics on Paranal laser beams shoot out
into the night sky to create artificial
stars sensors use these stars to measure
the atmospheric distortions and hundreds
of times per second the image is
corrected by computer-controlled
deformable mirrors and the end effect as
if the turbulent atmosphere were
completely removed just look at the
difference
the Milky Way is a giant spiral galaxy
and at its core 27,000 light-years away
lies a mystery that esos Very Large
Telescope helped to unravel
massive dust clouds block our view of
the Milky Way’s core but sensitive
infrared cameras can peer through the
dust and uncover what lies behind
assisted by adaptive optics they
revealed dozens of red giant stars and
over the years these stars are seen to
move they orbit an invisible object at
the very centre of the Milky Way judging
from the stellar motions the invisible
object must be extremely massive a
monstrous black hole weighing in at 4.3
million times the mass of our Sun
astronomers have even observed energetic
flares from gas clouds falling into the
black hole all exposed by the sheer
power of adaptive optics so thin mirrors
and active optics make it possible to
build giant telescopes and the adaptive
optics take care of the atmospheric
turbulence providing us with extremely
sharp images but we’re not done yet with
our magic tricks there’s a third one and
it’s called interferometry the VLT
consists of four telescopes together
they can act as a virtual telescope
measuring a hundred and thirty metres
across light collected by the individual
telescopes is channelled through tunnels
and brought together in an underground
laboratory here the light waves are
combined using laser metrology and
intricate delay lines
the net result is the light-gathering
power of four eight point two meter
mirrors and the eagle-eyed vision of an
imaginary telescope as large as 50
tennis courts for auxilary telescopes
give the network more flexibility they
may appear tiny next to the four Giants
yet they sport mirrors 1.8 metres across
that’s bigger than the largest telescope
in the world just a hundred years ago
optical interferometry is something of a
miracle starlight magic wielded in the
desert and the results are impressive
The Very Large Telescope interferometer
reveals 50 times more detail than the
Hubble telescope for instance it gave us
a close-up of a vampire double star 1
star is stealing material from its
companion
irregular puffs of Stardust have been
detected around Betelgeuse a stellar
giant about to go supernova
and in dusty discs surrounding newborn
stars astronomers have found the raw
material of future earth-like worlds the
Very Large Telescope is mankind’s
sharpest eye on the sky but astronomers
have other means to expand their
horizons and broaden their views at the
European Southern Observatory they have
learned to see the universe in a
completely different kind of light
you
great music isn’t it but suppose you had
a hearing impairment what if you
couldn’t hear the low frequencies or the
high frequencies astronomers used to be
in a similar situation the human eye is
only sensitive to a small part of all
the radiation in the universe we can’t
see light with wavelengths shorter than
violet waves or longer than red waves we
just don’t perceive the whole cosmic
symphony infrared or heat radiation was
first discovered by William Herschel in
1800 in a dark room can’t see me but put
on infrared goggles and you can see my
body warmth likewise infrared telescopes
reveal cosmic objects too cool to give
off visible light like dark clouds of
gas and dust where stars and planets are
born
for decades ESO astronomers have been
keen to explore the universe at infrared
wavelengths but the first detectors were
small and hence inefficient they gave us
a blurry view of the infrared sky
today’s infrared cameras are huge and
powerful they’re cooled to very low
temperatures to increase their
sensitivity and esos Very Large
Telescope is designed to make good use
of them in fact some of its
technological tricks like interferometry
only work in the infrared we’ve
broadened our view to reveal the
universe in a new light
this dark blob is a cloud of cosmic dust
it blots out the stars in the background
but in the infrared we can look straight
through the dust and here’s the Orion
Nebula a stellar nursery most of the
newborn baby stars are hidden by dust
clouds again infrared comes to the
rescue
revealing stars in the making
at the end of their lives stars blow out
bubbles of gas cosmic showpieces at
optical wavelengths but the infrared
picture shows much more detail
don’t forget the stars and gas clouds
captured by the monstrous black hole in
the core of our Milky Way galaxy without
infrared cameras we would never see them
in other galaxies infrared studies have
revealed the true distribution of stars
like our own Sun the farthest galaxies
are best studied in the infrared their
light has been shifted to these long
wavelengths by the expansion of the
universe close to Paranal is a small
mountain peak with an isolated building
on top inside this building is the four
point one meter vista telescope it was
built in the United Kingdom esos tenth
Member State
from now Vista only does infrared it
uses a giant camera weighing as much as
a pickup truck and yes Vista offers
unprecedented vistas of the infrared
universe lisa has been doing optical
Astronomy since its birth 50 years ago
an infrared astronomy for about 30 years
but there are more registers to the
cosmic symphony 5,000 metres above sea
level high in the Chilean Andes is the
Chajnantor Plateau
astronomy doesn’t go higher than this
Chaffin and taurah is home to Alma the
Atacama Large millimeter/submillimeter
Array Alma is still under construction
at a site that is so hostile that it’s
even hard to breathe with just ten of
the 66 antennas in place Alma made its
first observations in the autumn of 2011
millimeter waves from space to observe
them you need to be high and dry chattin
untoward is one of the best places in
the world for this
clouds of cold gas and dark dust become
visible in a pair of colliding galaxies
this is not where stars are born but
where they are conceived
and these spiral waves in the outflow of
a dying star could they be due to an
orbiting planet
by changing the way we look we’re
closing in on the origins of planets
stars and galaxies on the full symphony
of the cosmos
you
stefan giza loves the stars no wonder he
loves northern chile to hear the view of
the universe is amongst the best in the
world and no wonder he loves the
european southern observatory europe’s
eye on the sky Stephane is a
prize-winning French photographer and
author he is also one of esos photo
ambassadors
in breathtaking pictures he captures the
solitude of the Atacama Desert the
high-tech perfection of giant telescopes
and the magnificence of the night sky
like his fellow photo ambassadors from
all over the world
Stefan helps in spreading esos message a
message of curiosity wonder and
inspiration
proclaimed through cooperation and
outreach cooperation has always been the
basis of esos success fifty years ago
the European Southern Observatory
started out with five founding member
states Belgium France Germany the
Netherlands and Sweden soon other
European countries followed Denmark in
1967 Italy in Switzerland in 1982
Portugal in 2001 and the United Kingdom
in 2002 over the past decade Finland
Spain the Czech Republic and Austria
also joined Europe’s largest astronomy
organization most recently Brazil became
esos 15th member state and the first
non-european country to join who knows
what the future will bring together the
member states enable the best possible
astronomical science at the world’s
largest observatories
it’s good for their economies to ESO
closely cooperates with industry in both
Europe and Chile
access roads had to be constructed
mountaintops had to be leveled the
Italian industrial consortium AES built
the main structure of the four VLT
telescopes each telescope weighs in at
some 430 tonnes
they also constructed the giant
enclosures each as high as a ten-storey
building the German glass company shot
produce the delicate VLT mirrors over
eight meters wide and just twenty
centimeters thick at real skin France
the mirrors were polished to a precision
of a millionth of a millimeter before
they made the long journey to paranal
meanwhile universities and research
institutes across Europe developed
sensitive cameras and spectrometers esos
telescopes are built with taxpayers
money your money and so you can take
part in the excitement for example eso’s
website is a rich source of astronomical
information including thousands of
beautiful pictures and videos also ESO
produces magazines press releases and
video documentaries such as the one
you’re watching right now and throughout
the world the European Southern
Observatory contributes to exhibitions
and science fairs countless ways to
participate in the discovery of the
cosmos did you know that the names of
the four VLT telescopes were thought up
by a young chilean girl 17-year old hosi
Ibanez castilla suggested the names antu
Quyen milli Pyle and Yip hoon meaning
Sun Moon Southern Cross and venus in the
mapuche language involving school
children and students like horsey is
important
that’s where esos educational activities
come in like student exercises and
school lectures
when the planet Venus passed in front of
the Sun in 2004 a special program was
aimed at European students and teachers
and in 2009 during the international
year of astronomy ESO reached millions
of schoolchildren and students all over
the world after all today’s children are
tomorrow’s astronomers but in terms of
outreach nothing beats the universe
itself astronomy is a visual science
images of galaxies star clusters and
stellar nurseries fire our imagination
when not doing science esos telescopes
are sometimes used for the cosmic gems
program taking pictures just for the
purpose of education and public outreach
after all a picture is worth a thousand
words
the general public can even take part in
creating these staggering images through
the hidden treasures competitions
Russian astronomy enthusiast igor
chekalin won the competition in 2010 his
marvelous images are based on real
science data
member-states industry and universities
by cooperating on all possible levels
ESO has become one of the most
successful astronomy organizations in
the world and through its engagement
with the public you are invited to join
the adventure the universe is yours to
discover for half a century the European
Southern Observatory has showcased the
splendour of the universe starlight
rains down on the earth giant telescopes
catch the cosmic photons and feed them
to state-of-the-art cameras and
spectrographs
today’s astronomical images are very
different from those of the 1960s when
ESO began back in 1962 astronomers used
large photographic glass plates not very
sensitive imprecise and hard to handle
what a difference today’s electronic
detectors have made they catch almost
every Photon the images are available
instantaneously and most importantly
they can be processed and analyzed by
computer software astronomy has truly
become a digital science ESO telescopes
use some of the largest and most
sensitive detectors in the world the
Vista camera has no less than 16 of them
for a total of 67 million pixels this
huge instrument catches infrared light
from cosmic dust clouds newborn stars
and distant galaxies
liquid helium keeps the detectors at
minus 269 degrees Vista takes an
inventory of the southern sky like an
explorer surveying an unknown continent
the VLT survey telescope is another
discovery machine but this one works at
visible wavelengths it’s camera called
omegacam is even larger 32 ccd s team up
to produce spectacular images with a
mind-boggling 268 million pixels the
field of view is one square degree four
times as large as the full moon
Omega can generates 50 gigabytes of data
every night and these are just gorgeous
gigabytes survey telescopes like Vista
and the VST also mind the sky for rare
and interesting objects astronomers then
use the sheer power of the VLT to study
these objects in exquisite detail each
of the VLTs four telescopes has its own
set of unique instruments each with its
own particular strengths without these
instruments ESO giant eye on the sky
will be well blind they have fanciful
names like Isaac flames hawk-i and
sinfoni giant high-tech machines each
the size of a small car
their purpose to record the cosmic
photons and recover every possible bit
of information all of the instruments
are unique but some are a little more
special than others for example makkal
here and symphony use the VLTs adaptive
optics system lasers produce artificial
stars that help astronomers to correct
for Atmospheric blurring nakos images
are as sharp as if they were taken from
outer space and then there’s MIDI and
amber – interferometric instruments hear
light waves from two or more telescopes
are brought together as if they were
captured by one giant single mirror the
result the sharpest views you can
imagine
but astronomy is not only about taking
images if you’re after the details you
have to dissect the Starlight and study
its composition
spectroscopy is one of astronomy’s most
powerful tools
no wonder ISO boosts some of the world’s
most advanced spectrographs like the
powerful ex shooter images carry more
beauty but spectra reveal more
information
composition motions ages
the atmospheres of exoplanets orbiting
distant stars
or newborn galaxies at the edge of the
observable universe
without spectroscopy we would just be
explorers staring at a beautiful
landscape with spectroscopy we learn
about the landscapes topography geology
evolution and Composition
and there’s one more thing despite its
serene beauty the universe is a violent
place things go bump in the night and
astronomers want to catch each and every
event massive stars end their lives in
Titanic supernova explosions some cosmic
detonations are so powerful that they
briefly outshine their parent galaxies
flooding intergalactic space with
invisible high-energy gamma rays small
robotic telescopes respond to automatic
alerts from satellites within seconds
they swing into position to study the
aftermaths of these explosions other
Robo scopes focus on less dramatic
events such as distant planets that pass
in front of their mother stars the
cosmos is in a constant state of flux
ESO tries not to miss a single heartbeat
cosmology is the study of the universe
as a whole its structure evolution and
origin here catching as much light as
possible is of the essence these
galaxies are so far away that only a
handful of photons reach the earth
but these photons hold close to the
cosmic past they have traveled for
billions of years they paint a picture
of the early days of the universe that’s
why big telescopes and sensitive
detectors are so important
over the past 50 years ESO telescopes
have revealed some of the most distant
galaxies and quasars ever observed
they even helped to uncover the
distribution of dark matter the nature
of which is still a mystery who knows
what the next 50 years will bring have
you ever wondered about life in the
universe inhabited planets orbiting
distant stars
well astronomers have for centuries
after all with so many galaxies and each
with so many stars how could the earth
be unique in 1995 swiss astronomers
michel mayor and didier kilo were the
first to discover an exoplanet orbiting
a normal star since then planet hunters
have found many hundreds of alien worlds
large and small hot and cold and in a
wide variety of orbits now we’re on the
brink of discovering Earth’s twin
sisters and in the future a planet with
life the holy grail of astrobiologists
the European Southern Observatory plays
an important role in the search for
exoplanets Michelle Myers team found
hundreds of them from Cerro Lucia esos
first Chilean foothold here’s the
Coralie spectrograph mounted on the
Swiss Leonardo Euler telescope it
measures the tiny wobbles of stars
caused by the gravity of orbiting
planets esos venerable 3 point 6 meter
telescope is also hunting for exoplanets
the harps spectrograph is the most
accurate in the world so far it’s
discovered more than 150 planets
it’s biggest trophy a rich system
containing at least five and maybe as
many as seven alien worlds
but there are other ways to find
exoplanets
in 2006 the 1.5 meter Danish telescope
helped to discover a distant planet that
is just five times more massive than the
earth the trick gravitational
microlensing the planet and its parent
star passed in front of a brightest star
in the background magnifying its image
and in some cases you can even capture
exoplanets on camera
in 2004 NACO the adaptive optics camera
on the Very Large Telescope took the
first image ever of an exoplanet the red
dot in this image is a giant planet
orbiting a brown dwarf star in 2010 NACO
went one step further this star is a
hundred and thirty light-years away from
Earth it is younger and brighter than
the Sun and four planets circle around
it in wide orbits Nicko’s eagle-eyed
vision made it possible to measure the
light of Planet C a gas giant ten times
more massive than Jupiter despite the
glare of the parent star the feeble
light of the planet could be stretched
out into a spectrum revealing details
about the atmosphere today many
exoplanets are discovered when they
transit across their parent stars if we
happen to see the planet’s orbit edge-on
it will part in front of its star every
cycle thus tiny regular brightness dips
in the light of a star betray the
existence of an orbiting planet
the chappies telescope at La Silla will
help search for these elusive transits
meanwhile The Very Large Telescope has
studied a transiting planet in exquisite
detail meet gj1214b a super-earth 2.6
times larger than our home planet during
transits the planet’s atmosphere partly
absorbs the light of the parent star
I so sensitive fors spectrograph
revealed that gj1214b might well be a
hot and steamy sauna world gas giants
and sauna worlds are inhospitable to
life but the hunt is not over yet soon
the new sphere instrument will be
installed at the VLT sphere we’ll be
able to spot faint planets in the glare
of their host stars in 2016 the espresso
spectrograph will arrive at the VLT and
greatly surpass the current harps
instrument and ESA’s extremely large
telescope once completed may well find
evidence for alien biospheres
on earth life is abundant northern chile
offers its share of condors vicuƱas vist
caches and giant cacti even the arid
soil of the Atacama Desert teems with
Hardy microbes
we found the building blocks of life in
interstellar space
we’ve learned that planets are abundant
billions of years ago comets brought
water and organic molecules to earth
wouldn’t we expect the same thing to
happen elsewhere
Oh are we alone it’s the biggest
question ever and the answer is almost
Within Reach
astronomy is big science
it’s a vast universe out there and the
exploration of the cosmos requires huge
instruments
this is the 5-metre Hale reflector on
Palomar Mountain when the European
Southern Observatory came into being
fifty years ago it was the largest
telescope in the world eso’s very large
telescope but Cerro Paranal is the state
of the art now as the most powerful
Observatory in history it has revealed
the full splendour of the universe in
which we live but astronomers have set
their sights on even bigger instruments
and ESO is realising their dreams
San Pedro de Atacama tucked amidst
breathtaking scenery and natural wonders
this picturesque town is home to
indigenous atacameƱos and adventurous
backpackers alike and ESO astronomers
and technicians
not far from San Pedro esos first dream
machine is taking shape it’s called Alma
the Atacama Large
millimeter/submillimeter Array Alma is a
joint project of Europe North America
and East Asia it operates like a giant
zoom lens close together the 66 antennas
provide a wide-angle view but spread
apart they reveal much finer detail over
a smaller area of sky at submillimetre
wavelengths Alma sees the universe in a
different light but what would it reveal
the birth of the very first galaxies in
the universe in the wake of the Big Bang
cold and dusty clouds of molecular gas
the stellar nurseries where new suns and
planets are born
and the chemistry of the cosmos
Alma will track down organic molecules
the building blocks of life construction
of the Alma antennas is in full swing –
giant transporters called Otto and lore
take the completed antennas up to the
chat onto a plateau
at 5,000 meters above sea level the
array provides an unprecedented view of
the microwave universe
while Alma is nearly completed esos next
dream machine is still a few years away
see that mountain over there
that’s Cerro Amazonas not far from
Paranal it will be home to the largest
telescope in the history of mankind meet
the European extremely large telescope
the world’s biggest eye on the sky
sporting a mirror almost 40 metres
across the e-elt simply Dwarfs every
telescope that preceded it almost 800
computer-controlled mirror segments
complex optics to provide the sharpest
possible images a dome as tall as a
church steeple
the e-elt is an exercise in superlatives
but the real wonder of course is in the
universe out there
the e-elt will reveal planets orbiting
other stars
it’s spectrographs will sniff the
atmosphere of these alien worlds looking
for biosignatures
further away the e-elt will study
individual stars in other galaxies it’s
like meeting the inhabitants of
neighboring cities for the first time
working as a cosmic time machine the
giant telescope lets us look back
billions of years to learn how
everything began and it may solve the
riddle of the accelerating universe the
mysterious fact that galaxies are pushed
away from each other faster and faster
you.

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