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First Images from VLT Survey Telescope Revealed

Photonics.com
Jun 2011
PARANAL, Chile, June 8, 2011 — With a startling portrait of the Swan Nebula, images acquired at the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) have begun to reveal the universe in more detail than ever before from a terrestrial site. The latest telescope to be added to the Paranal Observatory — operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile — the VST is expected to provide sharp wide-field images of large swaths of the night sky.

Part of the ESO’s Very Large Telescope operation, and in collaboration with INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte of Naples, Italy, the VST is housed in an enclosure immediately adjacent to the four VLT Unit Telescopes on the summit of Cerro Paranal. It has a field of view twice as broad as the full moon. It is the largest telescope in the world, designed to exclusively survey the sky in visible light. Over the next few years, the VST and its camera OmegaCAM will make several very detailed surveys of the southern sky. All survey data will be made public.


The first released image from the VLT Survey Telescope shows the spectacular star-forming region Messier 17, also known as the Omega Nebula or the Swan Nebula, as it has never been seen before. (Image: European Southern Observatory/INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte)

“I am very pleased to see the impressive first images from the VST and OmegaCAM. The unique combination of the VST and the VISTA infrared survey telescope will allow many interesting objects to be identified for more detailed follow-up observations with the powerful telescopes of the VLT,” said ESO Director General Tim de Zeeuw.

“The superb images now coming from VST and OmegaCAM are a tribute to the hard work of many groups around Europe over many years. We are now looking forward to a rich harvest of science and unexpected discoveries from the VST surveys,” added Massimo Capaccioli, principal investigator of the VST project.

The 2.6-m VST has an active optics system to keep the mirrors perfectly positioned at all times. At its core, behind large lenses that ensure the best possible image quality, lies the 770-kg OmegaCAM camera, built around 32 CCD detectors, sealed in vacuum, that together create 268-megapixel images [5].

The first released image shows the spectacular star-forming region Messier 17, also known as the Omega Nebula or the Swan Nebula, as it has never been seen before. This dramatic region of gas, dust and hot young stars lies in the heart of the Milky Way in the constellation of Sagittarius. The VST field of view is so large that the entire nebula, including its fainter outer parts, is captured — and retains its superb sharpness across the entire image.

The second released image may be the best portrait of the globular star cluster Omega Centauri ever made. This is the largest globular cluster in the sky, but the very wide field of view of VST and OmegaCAM can encompass even the faint outer regions of this spectacular object. This view, which includes about 300,000 stars, demonstrates the excellent resolution of VST.

For more information, visit: www.eso.org  


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