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ESO La Silla Observatory

Having a toehold on the southern sky is important for astronomers, because the Galactic centre region is not visible from the northern hemisphere; it stays to low above the southern horizon, even at the best time of the year, that observations are practically impossible). The European Southern Observatory's (ESO's) first observatory, with which Europe established its access to the southern hemisphere, was built on La Silla, a 2400-m high mountain in the Chilean Andes, north-east of La Serena (some 500 km north of Santiago de Chile).

Overview of the observatory, as seen from the catwalk of the 3.6-m dome (see below).

The above photo dates back to the late 1980ies, when the New Technology Telescope (NTT) was still under construction. Ontop of the science that is done with it, the NTT also served as a technology demonstrator project for the Very Large Telescope (VLT) on Paranal.

Evening twilight impression of four domes on La Silla, including those of the largest telescopes of the observatory, namely the 3.6-m telescope (top), the NTT (square dome to the bottom left of the 3.6-m) and the 2.2-m telescope (lower right).

In good conditions one can see from La Silla both the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, CTIO; to the South) and Las Campanas Observatory to the North.

Nighttime photo of the 3.6-m telescope dome, illuminated by a quarter moon, with the 1.4-m CAT next to it and Chile's brilliant southern sky in the background.

Although primarily an optical observatory, La Silla also operated for more than 15 years a radio telescope, namely the Swedish-ESO Submillimetre Telescope (SEST).

ESO now has a new, second-generation observatory on Mount Paranal, the Very Large Telescope (VLT), about 500 km to the North of La Silla.