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17 April 2014 12:48 pm ,
Vol. 344 ,
Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
- About Us
Biggest Telescope Takes a Gander
27 May 1998 7:00 pm
AMSTERDAM--The world's largest optical telescope is wowing astronomers even before it is finished. At a press conference here today, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) unveiled the first images from the Very Large Telescope (VLT), which will consist of four identical 8.2-meter telescopes that can operate in tandem (Science, 1 May, p. 670). Currently, only the first telescope is finished; the others will be completed in the next 3 years.
The test observations were hampered by clouds (very rare at Cerro Paranal, which experiences 350 clear nights per year) and a moderate earthquake. "Fortunately, the earthquake protection system worked very well and put the delicate mirror in safe mode to prevent damage," says ESO astronomer Lex Kaper, a member of the First Light team. But even at this stage, the VLT was able to probe the sky in sharper detail than any other ground-based telescope, ESO astronomers said.
The VLT images reveal subtle wisps of gas in the outer regions of a planetary nebula called the Butterfly Nebula (NGC 6302) and faint jets and bow shocks in the Eta Carinae Nebula, along with details of galaxies and star clusters. "Already, we are reaching and exceeding the specifications that we expected to reach within 3 years," says Kaper. The VLT's active mirror support system helps explain its eye for detail. Computerized actuators at the back of the mirror--150 of them--control its shape, compensating for slight distortions due to temperature changes, wind load, and gravity.
When the other three telescopes are finished in 2001, the Very Large Telescope will be able to reveal objects of unprecedented faintness in the distant universe. Says Leiden University cosmologist George Miley: "The VLT will enable us to unravel the formation history of galaxies. Astronomers will become the ultimate historians and archaeologists [of the cosmos]."