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VLT Star Laser Illuminates Newly-Discovered Comet

 

           Potw1308a (1)

 

Europeaan Space Orgazization photographers captured this spectacular image of ESO’s Chile-based Very Large Telescope (VLT) during the testing of a new laser for the VLT 14 February 2013. It will be used as a vital part of the Laser Guide Star Facility (LGSF), which allows astronomers to correct for most of the disturbances caused by the constant movement of the atmosphere in order to create much sharper images. It's not a leap to think of it as a futuristic laser cannon being pointed towards some kind of distant space invader.

As well as the amazing view of the Milky Way seen over the telescope, there is another feature making this picture even more special. To the right of the center of the image, just below the Small Magellanic Cloud and almost hidden among the myriad stars seen in the dark Chilean sky, there is a green dot with a faint tail stretching to its left. This is the recently discovered and brighter-than-expected Comet Lemmon, a long-period comet discovered in Leo on 23 March 2012, which is currently moving slowly through the southern skies.

The Very Large Telescope (VLT) is the flagship for European ground-based astronomy made up of four separate optical telescopes organized in an array formation, built and operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) at the Paranal Observatory on Cerro Paranal, a 2,635 m high mountain in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile.

Working individually, each 8.2m diameter Unit Telescopes can obtain images of celestial objects as faint as magnitude 30 in a one-hour exposure, which corresponds to seeing objects that are four billion (four thousand million) times fainter than what can be seen with the unaided eye.

The VLT has stimulated a new age of discoveries, with several notable scientific firsts, including the first image of an exoplanet, tracking individual stars moving around the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, and observing the afterglow of the furthest known gamma-ray burst.
                         Potw1308a (2)

 

The Daily Galaxy via ESO

Image credit: G.Hüdepohl (atacamaphoto.com)/ESO

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