25
Jun 16

New Horizons Sees a ‘Super Grand Canyon’ on Pluto’s Moon Charon

Source: NASA

Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRICredits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, is home to an unusual canyon system that’s far longer and deeper than the Grand Canyon. The inset above magnifies a portion of the eastern limb in the global view of Charon at left, imaged by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft several hours before its closest approach on July 14, 2015. A deep canyon informally named Argo Chasma is seen grazing the limb.
The section of it seen here measures approximately 185 miles (300 kilometers) long. As far as New Horizons scientists can tell, Argo’s total length is approximately 430 miles (700 kilometers) long – for comparison, Arizona’s Grand Canyon is 280 miles (450 kilometers) long.
At this fortuitous viewing angle the canyon is seen edge-on, and at the northern end of the canyon its depth can be easily gauged. Based on this and other images taken around the same time, New Horizons scientists estimate Argo Chasma to be as deep as 5.5 miles (9 kilometers), which is more than five times the depth of the Grand Canyon. There appear to be locations along the canyon’s length where sheer cliffs reaching several miles high occur, and which could potentially rival Verona Rupes on Uranus’ moon Miranda (which is at least 3 miles, or 5 kilometers, high) for the title of tallest known cliff face in the solar system.
The image was obtained by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) at a resolution of approximately 1.45 miles (2.33 kilometers) per pixel. It was taken at a range of approximately 289,000 miles (466,000 kilometers) from Charon, 9 hours and 22 minutes before New Horizons’ closest approach to Charon on July 14, 2015.
The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. In addition to being the home of the mission principal investigator, the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), based in San Antonio, leads the science team, payload operations and science planning. New Horizons is the first mission in NASA's New Frontiers Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. (NASA news)
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24
Jun 16

Unexpected Excess of Giant Planets in Star Cluster

Source: Science Release eso1621

eso1621aArtist’s impression of a hot Jupiter exoplanet in the star cluster Messier 67 .
Image credits: ESO/L. Calçada.

An international team of astronomers have found that there are far more planets of the hot Jupiter type than expected in a cluster of stars called Messier 67. This surprising result was obtained using a number of telescopes and instruments, among them the HARPS spectrograph at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. The denser environment in a cluster will cause more frequent interactions between planets and nearby stars, which may explain the excess of hot Jupiters. (learn more)

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23
Jun 16

Successful First Observations of Galactic Centre with GRAVITY

Source: ESO Organisation Release eso1622

eso1622aArtist’s impression of the star S2 passing very close to the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way.
Image credits: ESO/L. Calçada.

A European team of astronomers have used the new GRAVITY instrument at ESO’s Very Large Telescope to obtain exciting observations of the centre of the Milky Way by combining light from all four of the 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes for the first time. These results provide a taste of the groundbreaking science that GRAVITY will produce as it probes the extremely strong gravitational fields close to the central supermassive black hole and tests Einstein’s general relativity. (learn more)

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21
Jun 16

LISA Pathfinder exceeds expectations

Source: eLISA

The LISAPathfinder spacecraft separates from its propulsion module as it arrives at its destination orbit located at the L1 Lagrange point.

ESA’s LISA Pathfinder mission has demonstrated the technology needed to build a space-based gravitational wave observatory.

Results from only two months of science operations show that the two cubes at the heart of the spacecraft are falling freely through space under the influence of gravity alone, unperturbed by other external forces, to a precision more than five times better than originally required.

In a paper published today in Physical Review Letters, the LISA Pathfinder team show that the test masses are almost motionless with respect to each other, with a relative acceleration lower than 1 part in ten millionths of a billionth of Earth’s gravity.

The demonstration of the mission’s key technologies opens the door to the development of a large space observatory capable of detecting gravitational waves emanating from a wide range of exotic objects in the Universe.

Hypothesised by Albert Einstein a century ago, gravitational waves are oscillations in the fabric of spacetime, moving at the speed of light and caused by the acceleration of massive objects.

They can be generated, for example, by supernovas, neutron star binaries spiralling around each other, and pairs of merging black holes.

Even from these powerful objects, however, the fluctuations in spacetime are tiny by the time they arrive at Earth – smaller than 1 part in 100 billion billion.

Sophisticated technologies are needed to register such minuscule changes, and gravitational waves were directly detected for the first time only in September 2015 by the ground-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).

This experiment saw the characteristic signal of two black holes, each with some 30 times the mass of the Sun, spiralling towards one another in the final 0.3 seconds before they coalesced to form a single, more massive object.

The signals seen by LIGO have a frequency of around 100 Hz, but gravitational waves span a much broader spectrum. In particular, lower-frequency oscillations are produced by even more exotic events such as the mergers of supermassive black holes.

With masses of millions to billions of times that of the Sun, these giant black holes sit at the centres of massive galaxies. When two galaxies collide, these black holes eventually coalesce, releasing vast amounts of energy in the form of gravitational waves throughout the merger process, and peaking in the last few minutes.

To detect these events and fully exploit the new field of gravitational astronomy, it is crucial to open access to gravitational waves at low frequencies between 0.1 mHz and 1 Hz. This requires measuring tiny fluctuations in distance between objects placed millions of kilometres apart, something that can only be achieved in space, where an observatory would also be free of the seismic, thermal and terrestrial gravity noises that limit ground-based detectors.

LISA Pathfinder was designed to demonstrate key technologies needed to build such an observatory.

A crucial aspect is placing two test masses in freefall, monitoring their relative positions as they move under the effect of gravity alone. Even in space this is very difficult, as several forces, including the solar wind and pressure from sunlight, continually disturb the cubes and the spacecraft.

Thus, in LISA Pathfinder, a pair of identical, 2 kg, 46 mm gold–platinum cubes, 38 cm apart, fly, surrounded, but untouched, by a spacecraft whose job is to shield them from external influences, adjusting its position constantly to avoid hitting them.

“LISA Pathfinder's test masses are now still with respect to each other to an astonishing degree, ” says Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science.

“This is the level of control needed to enable the observation of low-frequency gravitational waves with a future space observatory.”

LISA Pathfinder was launched on 3 December 2015, reaching its operational orbit roughly 1.5 million km from Earth towards the Sun in late January 2016.

The mission started operations on 1 March, with scientists performing a series of experiments on the test masses to measure and control all of the different aspects at play, and determine how still the masses really are.

“The measurements have exceeded our most optimistic expectations,” says Paul McNamara, LISA Pathfinder Project Scientist.

“We reached the level of precision originally required for LISA Pathfinder within the first day, and so we spent the following weeks improving the results a factor of five.”

These extraordinary results show that the control achieved over the test masses is essentially at the level required to implement a gravitational wave observatory in space.

“Not only do we see the test masses as almost motionless, but we have identified, with unprecedented precision, most of the remaining tiny forces disturbing them,” explains Stefano Vitale of University of Trento and INFN, Italy, Principal Investigator of the LISA Technology Package, the mission’s core payload.

The first two months of data show that, in the frequency range between 60 mHz and 1 Hz, LISA Pathfinder's precision is only limited by the sensing noise of the laser measurement system used to monitor the position and orientation of the cubes.

“The performance of the laser instrument has already surpassed the level of precision required by a future gravitational-wave observatory by a factor of more than 100,” says Martin Hewitson, LISA Pathfinder Senior Scientist from Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics and Leibniz Universität Hannover, Germany.

At lower frequencies of 1–60 mHz, control over the cubes is limited by gas molecules bouncing off them – a small number remain in the surrounding vacuum. This effect was seen reducing as more molecules were vented into space, and is expected to improve in the following months.

“We have observed the performance steadily improving, day by day, since the start of the mission,” says William Weber, LISA Pathfinder Senior Scientist from University of Trento, Italy.

At even lower frequencies, below 1 mHz, the scientists measured a small centrifugal force acting on the cubes, from a combination of the shape of LISA Pathfinder’s orbit and to the effect of the noise in the signal of the startrackers used to orient it.

While this force slightly disturbs the cubes’ motion in LISA Pathfinder, it would not be an issue for a future space observatory, in which each test mass would be housed in its own spacecraft, and linked to the others over millions of kilometres via lasers.

“At the precision reached by LISA Pathfinder, a full-scale gravitational wave observatory in space would be able to detect fluctuations caused by the mergers of supermassive black holes in galaxies anywhere in the Universe,” says Karsten Danzmann, director at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics, director of the Institute for Gravitational Physics of Leibniz Universität Hannover, Germany, and Co-Principal Investigator of the LISA Technology Package.

Today’s results demonstrate that LISA Pathfinder has proven the key technologies and paved the way for such an observatory, as the third ‘Large-class’ (L3) mission in ESA’s Cosmic Vision programme.

Notes for Editors

“Sub-femto-g free-fall for space-borne gravitational wave detectors: LISA Pathfinder results,” is published in Physical Review Letters http://link.aps.org/doi/10.1103/PhysRevLett.116.231101

The results were presented today during a media briefing at ESA’s European Space Astronomy Centre in Villanueva de la Cañada, Madrid, Spain.

There will be an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit on 7 June at 14:00 CEST (12:00 GMT) reddit.com/r/iAmA

LISA Pathfinder is an ESA mission with important contributions from its member states and NASA.

The LISA Technology Package payload has been delivered by several national funding agencies and ESA, in particular: Italy (ASI); Germany (DLR); the United Kingdom (UKSA); France (CNES); Spain (CDTI); Switzerland (SSO); and the Netherlands (SRON). LISA Pathfinder also carries the Disturbance Reduction System payload, provided by NASA-JPL.

Science operations involving the full LISA Technology Package will last until late June, followed by three months of operations with the Disturbance Reduction System.

About the European Space Agency

The European Space Agency (ESA) provides Europe’s gateway to space.

ESA is an intergovernmental organisation, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

ESA has 22 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, of whom 20 are Member States of the EU.

ESA has established formal cooperation with seven other Member States of the EU. Canada takes part in some ESA programmes under a Cooperation Agreement.

By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, ESA can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country. It is working in particular with the EU on implementing the Galileo and Copernicus programmes.

ESA develops the launchers, spacecraft and ground facilities needed to keep Europe at the forefront of global space activities.

Today, it develops and launches satellites for Earth observation, navigation, telecommunications and astronomy, sends probes to the far reaches of the Solar System and cooperates in the human exploration of space.

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21
Jun 16

Hundreds of events worldwide scheduled for Asteroid Day 2016

asterooidImage credits: NASA.

What began as a passion of a handful of individuals, a musician, filmmaker, technologist, scientist and astronaut, has become a global movement by thousands to increase awareness and education about asteroids. Supported by 22 global partners, scores of international agencies, 72 space travelers from 12 nations, leaders in business and finance, parents and youth, Asteroid Day 2016 (http://asteroidday.org/) will include hundreds of events on and around June 30, 2016.

Professor Stephen Hawking, who will participate in the Starmus Festival (http://www.starmus.com/), an Asteroid Day event, states that “One of the major threats to intelligent life in our universe is a high probability of an asteroid colliding with inhabitable planets.”

“Our goal is to dedicate one day each year to learn about asteroids, the origins of our universe, and to support the resources necessary to see, track and deflect dangerous asteroids from Earth’s orbital path,” explains Dr. Brian May, astrophysicist, guitarist and songwriter for QUEEN who co-founded Asteroid Day.  “Asteroids are a natural disaster we know how to prevent.”

This is the premise of Asteroid Day.

Asteroid Day is held on the anniversary of the largest asteroid impact of Earth in recorded history. On June 30, 1908, a relatively small asteroid (40 meters) exploded over Tunguska, Siberia, releasing the equivalent of 100 tons of TNT, devastating an area of about 800 square miles, the size of any major metropolitan city.

Events for Asteroid Day will be held on all five continents and include films, concerts, interactive workshops and expert panels with engineers, scientists and astronauts and special programs for youth.

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19
Jun 16

ALMA Observes Most Distant Oxygen Ever

Source: ESO Science Release eso1620

eso1620aSchematic diagram of the history of the Universe.
Image credits: NAOJ.

A team of astronomers has used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to detect glowing oxygen in a distant galaxy seen just 700 million years after the Big Bang. This is the most distant galaxy in which oxygen has ever been unambiguously detected, and it is most likely being ionised by powerful radiation from young giant stars. This galaxy could be an example of one type of source responsible for cosmic reionisation in the early history of the Universe. (learn more)

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19
Jun 16

TW Hya Association: Smaller Stars Pack Big X-ray Punch For Would-be Planets

Source: Chandra

Black Seed_images_allTW Hya Association.
Image credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/RIT/J.Kastner et al; Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss.

 Young stars much less massive than the Sun can unleash a torrent of X-ray radiation that can significantly shorten the lifetime of planet-forming disks surrounding these stars. This result comes from a new study of a group of nearby stars using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes.(learn more)

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18
Jun 16

Black Hole Fed by Cold Intergalactic Deluge

Source: ESO Science Release eso1618

eso1618aArtist’s impression of cold intergalactic rain.
Image credits: NRAO/AUI/NSF; Dana Berry/SkyWorks; ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

An international team of astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has witnessed a cosmic weather event that has never been seen before — a cluster of towering intergalactic gas clouds raining in on the supermassive black hole at the centre of a huge galaxy one billion light-years from Earth. The results will appear in the journal Nature on 9 June 2016.(learn more)

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18
Jun 16

First Detection of Methyl Alcohol in a Planet-forming Disc

Source: ESO Science Release eso1619

eso1619aArtist’s impression of the disc around the young star TW Hydra.
Image Credits: ESO/M. Kornmesser

The organic molecule methyl alcohol (methanol) has been found by the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) in the TW Hydrae protoplanetary disc. This is the first such detection of the compound in a young planet-forming disc. Methanol is the only complex organic molecule as yet detected in discs that unambiguously derives from an icy form. Its detection helps astronomers understand the chemical processes that occur during the formation of planetary systems and that ultimately lead to the creation of the ingredients for life. (learn more)

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15
Jun 16

Last day for Space Art

Space Art Contest 2016 is still open and teachers can present their students works june 15th 2016 which means today is the last day for submissions.

Space Art is a project that aims to stimulate very young students (6 to 12 years old) to discover the universe and its beauty. Art is a perfect way to achieve this.

Students should make an image (picture, drawing or painting) and submit it at Space Art's website.

The goal of the European Astronomy Contest Space Art is to stimulate the creativity and independent work of students from European secondary schools, to strengthen and expand their astronomical knowledge and skills, and to help the spread of information technologies in the educational process.

The idea of the Space Art program is to encourage very young students to imagine about the Universe, to learn about astronomy and discover things for themselves by researching information on an astronomical object.

They just have to look for it in the sky, books or the internet and then draw it or make a picture of it using photography or combined techniques.

Space Art is organised jointly by the European Association for Astronomy Education (EAAE) and Universe Awareness (UNAWE). Its aim is to encourage creativity and independent work amongst young students, and to strengthen and expand their astronomical knowledge and creativity. (learn more)

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10
Jun 16

Last days for reduced fee registration for the EAAE Summer School

Poster DivulgaçãoRegistrations at a reduced fee of 150 euros for the EAAE Summer School 2016 in Algarve, Portugal end on June 15th, 2016.

After this date registration fee will be 200 euros.

Registration should be made using the form at the following link

http://goo.gl/forms/Hq3ttl1Du6

The Summer School includes 12 hands-on workshops covering all of the most important astronomical areas, and also astronomical observations, visits and lectures.

Highlights include an expedition to the Almendres Cromelech, near Évora, and to Lisbon Astronomical Observatory.

Astronomical observations are also programmed (if the weather conditions allow them). Astronomical lectures will be presented by lecturers from Universities and research centers. (read the whole program here)

Learn more about the Summer School here.

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29
May 16

Don´t forget about Space Art

Space Art Contest 2016 is  open and teachers can present their students works until june 15th 2016, so you only have two more weeks to submit your students' works.

Space Art is a project that aims to stimulate very young students (6 to 12 years old) to discover the universe and its beauty. Art is a perfect way to achieve this.

Students should make an image (picture, drawing or painting) and submit it at Space Art's website.

The goal of the European Astronomy Contest Space Art  is to stimulate the creativity and independent work of students from European secondary schools, to strengthen and expand their astronomical knowledge and skills, and to help the spread of information technologies in the educational process.

The idea of the Space Art program is to encourage very young students to imagine about the Universe, to learn about astronomy and discover things for themselves by researching information on an astronomical object.

They just have to look for it in the sky, books or the internet and then draw it or make a picture of it using photography or combined techniques.

Space Art is organised jointly by the European Association for Astronomy Education (EAAE) and Universe Awareness (UNAWE). Its aim is to encourage creativity and independent work amongst young students, and to strengthen and expand their astronomical knowledge and creativity. (learn more)

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25
May 16

Hubble finds clues to the birth of supermassive black holes

Source: ESA/Hubble Science Release heic1610

This artist’s impression shows a possible seed for the formation of a supermassive black hole. Two of these possible seeds were discovered by an Italian team, using three space telescopes: the NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, and the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope.

Artist’s impression of supermassive black hole seed.
Image credits: NASA/CXC/M. Weiss.

Astrophysicists have taken a major step forward in understanding how supermassive black holes formed. Using data from Hubble and two other space telescopes, Italian researchers have found the best evidence yet for the seeds that ultimately grow into these cosmic giants.(learn more)

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21
May 16

Close-up of the Red Planet

Source:ESA/Hubble heic1609

This image shows our neighbouring planet Mars, as it was observed shortly before opposition in 2016 by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Some prominent features of the planet are clearly visible: the ancient and inactive shield volcano Syrtis Major; the bright and oval Hellas Planitia basin; the heavily eroded Arabia Terra in the centre of the image; the dark features of Sinus Sabaeous and Sinus Meridiani along the equator; and the small southern polar cap.

During May 2016 the Earth and Mars get closer to each other than at any time in the last ten years. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has exploited this special configuration to catch a new image of our red neighbour, showing some of its famous surface features. This image supplements previous Hubble observations of Mars and allows astronomers to study large-scale changes on its surface. (learn more)

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19
May 16

A Beautiful Instance of Stellar Ornamentation

Source: ESO Photo Release eso1616

eso1616aThe glowing gas cloud LHA 120-N55 in the Large Magellanic Cloud .
Credits: ESO.

In this image from ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), light from blazing blue stars energises the gas left over from the stars’ recent formation. The result is a strikingly colourful emission nebula, called LHA 120-N55, in which the stars are adorned with a mantle of glowing gas. Astronomers study these beautiful displays to learn about the conditions in places where new stars develop.(learn more)

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10
May 16

Mercury transit 2016

On May 9th, 2016, Mercury made a transit in front of the Sun for the first time since 2006. The transit or passage of a planet across the face of the Sun is a relatively rare occurrence. As seen from Earth, only transits of Mercury and Venus are possible. There are approximately 13 transits of Mercury each century. In comparison, transits of Venus occur in pairs with more than a century separating each pair.

m c 160509 Merkurius ylikulkuMercury Transit 2016. Image credits and copyright: Sakari Ekko.

Sakari Ekko an astrophotographer and member of EAAE has made the fantastic image above, as he captured Mercury's transit in Turku, Finland, taking a photo every 20 minutes. Only the last 7 minutes of the transit were lost because the Sun was so low (altitude < 1º) and bad seeing washed out Mercury.

 

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8
May 16

Don't forget your EAAE Summer School registration

Poster DivulgaçãoRegistrations at a reduced fee for the EAAE Summer School 2016 in Algarve, Portugal end on May 15th, 2016.

Also the call for papers ends on the same date.

After that, between the May 15th and June 15th, 2016 registration fee will be 150 euros. After this date registration fee will be 200 euros.

Registration should be made using the form at the following link

http://goo.gl/forms/Hq3ttl1Du6

The Summer School includes 12 hands-on workshops covering all of the most important astronomical areas, visits and lectures.

Highlights include an expedition to the Almendres Cromelech, near Évora, and to Lisbon Astronomical Observatory.

Astronomical observations are also programmed (if the weather conditions allow them). Astronomical lectures will be presented by lecturers from Universities and research centers. (read the whole program here)

Learn more about the Summer School here.

Twitter del.icio.us Digg Facebook linked-in Yahoo Buzz StumbleUpon
4
May 16

EAAE and UNAWE launch Space Art 2016 Contest

Space Art Contest 2016 is now open and teachers can present their students works until june 15th 2016.

Space Art is a project whose aim is to stimulate students to discover the universe and its beauty. Art is a perfect way to achieve this.

Students should make an image (picture, drawing or painting) and submit it at Space Art's website.

The goal of the European Astronomy Contest Space Art  is to stimulate the creativity and independent work of students from European secondary schools, to strengthen and expand their astronomical knowledge and skills, and to help the spread of information technologies in the educational process.

The idea of the Space Art program is to encourage very young students to imagine about the Universe, to learn about astronomy and discover things for themselves by researching information on an astronomical object.

They just have to look for it in the sky, books or the internet and then draw it or make a picture of it using photography or combined techniques.

Space Art is organised jointly by theEuropean Association for Astronomy Education (EAAE) and Universe Awareness (UNAWE). Its aim is to encourage creativity and independent work amongst young students, and to strengthen and expand their astronomical knowledge and creativity. (learn more)

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30
Apr 16

Unique Fragment from Earth’s Formation Returns after Billions of Years in Cold Storage

Source: ESO Science Release eso1614

eso1614aArtist's impression of the unique rocky comet C/2014 S3 (PANSTARRS).
Image credits: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Astronomers have found a unique object that appears to be made of inner Solar System material from the time of Earth’s formation, which has been preserved in the Oort Cloud far from the Sun for billions of years. Observations with ESO’s Very Large Telescope, and the Canada France Hawai Telescope, show that C/2014 S3 (PANSTARRS) is the first object to be discovered on a long-period cometary orbit that has the characteristics of a pristine inner Solar System asteroid. It may provide important clues about how the Solar System formed.(Learn more)

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28
Apr 16

Four Lasers Over Paranal

Source: ESO Organisation Release eso1613

eso1613a
The most powerful laser guide star system in the world sees first light at the Paranal Observatory.
Image credits: ESO/F. Kamphues.

On 26 April 2016 ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile hosted an event to mark the first light for the four powerful lasers that form a crucial part of the adaptive optics systems on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Attendees were treated to a spectacular display of cutting-edge laser technology against the majestic skies of Paranal. These are the most powerful laser guide stars ever used for astronomy and the event marks the first use of multiple laser guide stars at ESO.

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