Astronomy Now Online

Celebrating 5 years of the Very Large Telescope
Posted: MARCH 31, 2004


The Very Large Telescope (VLT) is the world's largest and most advanced optical telescope. It comprises four 8.2-metre reflecting Unit Telescopes (UTs) and will in due time also include four moving 1.8-m Auxiliary Telescopes (ATs), the first one of which successfully passed its first tests in January 2004.

In the language of the indigenous Mapuche (Mapudungun) people, the four Unit Telescopes are now known as: ANTU (UT1; The Sun), KUEYEN (UT2; The Moon), MELIPAL (UT3; The Southern Cross), and YEPUN (UT4; Venus - as evening star).

Image credit: ESO

One of the world's most advanced telescope facilities, Very Large Telescope (VLT), situated in the Atacama Desert in Chile, celebrates its 5th birthday today on April 1st, 2004. During its short history the telescope has captured some breathtaking images furthering our knowledge about the far reaches of our Universe.

U.K. astronomers were first granted access to use the four 8.2-metre and several 1.8-metre telescopes that make up the VLT when the U.K. joined the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in July 2002. Since then over 100 U.K. astronomers have been awarded time on the telescope to study a range of phenomena including brown dwarfs, massive stars and supernovae.

Each of the telescopes is a science machine of its own but they can also be combined together as well as with four Auxiliary Telescope. The VLT Interferometry has already shown to be a very efficient tool to measure the diameter of very small star or to perform the first interferometry of an extragalactic object.

Some of the highlights of the last 5 years work include close up views of features such as the Horsehead Nebula, the Crab Nebula and the "Sombrero" Galaxy, so called because of its Mexican hat like appearance. In addition to these stunning images the VLT has allowed astronomers to make many scientific breakthroughs.

For example, confirming and measuring the mass of the Black Hole at the Centre of the Milky Way; finding the most-metal deficient star in the Galaxy, the farthest galaxy with a redshift of 10 and the connection between Supernovae and Gamma-ray bursts.

Professor Ian Halliday, Chief Executive of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council said: "Congratulations to ESO and the Very Large Telescope for five years of exciting science and breathtaking images. The success of the VLT paves the way for U.K. astronomers to be in a strong position for increased involvement in the next phase of European astronomical developments through participation in ALMA and the Extremely Large Telescope projects."

Dr Malcolm Bremer, a U.K. astronomer from Bristol University, has used the VLT to study faint galaxies. He explains why the facility is so important. "The VLT is vital for U.K. astronomers as, in combination with the Gemini Telescopes, they provide us with access to sufficient telescope time on state-of-the-art telescope facilities enabling the U.K. community to maintain its strong international standing in the subject."

The best of the stunning images produced by the VLT are now available at the Top 20 webpage with printing quality images: