Scientific research Popular-scientific pages Credits
Radio Infra-red Optical Optical/NIR
interferometry
Ultra-violet X-ray Γ-ray

ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT)

Paranal Observatory, ESO's second-generation observatory in the southern hemisphere, is located at an altitude of about 2600 m, ca. 100 km south of Antofagasta (northern Chile), and only 10 km from the Pacific coastline.

View of the platform ontop of Paranal, with the four domes of the 8-m telescopes and the tracks for the four moveable 1.8-m VLTI Auxiliary Telescopes.

Paranal's workhorses are the four 8.2-m optical telescopes in the domes above. They normally work as individual units, each with its own set of state-of-the-art instruments. The suite of the VLT's instruments works from the infrared to the ultraviolet band (the atmospheric cutoff).

Alternatively, the VLT units can work in conjunction, as the VLT Interferometer (VLTI). All four telescopes and the VLTI are controlled from a common control room by the side of the mountain peak with the observatory platform.

View of the Paranal control room. The area in the foreground is the control console and associated observer's workplace for UT-2 ("Kueyen").

The following photo shows a view from the entrance of the dome's observing doors onto one of the 8.2-m telescopes.

View from the entrance of the dome's observing doors onto one of the 8.2-m telescopes. It is hard to see that this is an 8-m mirror (could just as well be a 2-m class telescope). One can only appreciate the size of such a dish by either standing there or knowing that a wide-angle lens (28 mm focal length) was used for this shot.

Paranal has its own aluminization chamber, in which the primary mirrors are re-coated once per year per telescope (one every 3 monts). The chamber is at the observatory's basecamp, about 3.5 km away from and 300 m lower in altitude than the mountain top.

Mirror transport from the Paranal basecamp to the observatory at the mountain top.

Instruments on the four VLT units work in the near-UV (up to the atmospheric cutoff), optical and near-infrared wavebands.

The Atacama desert is the driest desert on Earth (in some parts there is no reported rain since the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores), so be prepared for a dusty ride if you want to have a look. Or, alternatively, if you fly to Antofagasta on a commercial airplane from Santiago, make sure that you are seated on the right-hand side of the plane - just when they initiate their descent into Antofagasta airport, one can enjoy an aerial view of the observatory!

ESO's headquarters are located in Garching near Munich, in southern Germany.