In the outskirts of the Atacama Desert, far from the light-polluted cities of northern Chile, the skies are pitch-black after sunset. Such dark skies allow some of the best astronomical observing to take place — and at an altitude of 2400 metres, ESO’s La Silla Observatory has an incredibly clear view of the night sky. However, even such a remote, high, and dry location cannot always escape the weather that sometimes comes with the winter months, when blankets of snow can cover the mountain peak and its telescope domes.
This image shows a wintry La Silla sitting beneath a spray of stars from our Milky Way, the plane of which slants across the frame. Visible (from right to left) are the ESO 3.6-metre telescope, the 3.58-metre New Technology Telescope (NTT), the ESO 1-metre Schmidt telescope, and the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope, which has snow on its dome. The small dome of the decommissioned Coudé Auxiliary Telescope can be seen adjacent to that of the ESO 3.6-metre telescope, and between it and the NTT are the water tanks of the observatory.
While the sight of snow at La Silla may initially be surprising, the high altitude ESO sites can experience both hot and cold temperatures through the year, and occasionally be subject to harsh conditions.
This photograph was taken by José Francisco Salgado, an ESO Photo Ambassador.
This Hubble image shows the galaxy cluster Abell S1077. Galaxy clusters are large groupings of galaxies, each of them including millions of stars. They are the largest existing structures in the Universe to be held together by their gravity.
The amount of matter condensed in such groupings is so high that their gravity is enough to warp the fabric of spacetime, distorting the path that light takes when it travels through the cluster. In some cases, this phenomenon produces an effect somewhat like a magnifying lens, allowing us to see objects that are aligned behind the cluster and which would otherwise be undetectable from Earth. In this image, you see stretched stripes that look like scratches on a lens but are, in fact, galaxies whose light is heavily distorted by the gravitational field of the cluster.
Astronomers use tools like the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and the effects of gravitational lensing to peer far back in time and space to see the furthest objects located in the early Universe. One of the record holders is MACS0647-JD, a galaxyseen by Hubble and the Spitzer Space Telescope with the help of a gravitational lens much like this one in the galaxy cluster MACS J0647.7+7015. Its light has taken 13.3 billion years to reach us.
This image is based in part on data spotted by Nick Rose in the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition.
Galaxy Cluster H68 (Hickson 68) imaged using SLOOH’s Canary Islands 2 Wide Field on May 11th, 2013 at 21:45:21 UTC
Saturn imaged using SLOOH’s Canary Islands 2 High Mag on May 11th, 2013 at 21:23:23 UTC