Celestial Laser Show? Nope, These Are Trails Showing Off Star Colors

by Elizabeth Howell on December 19, 2013

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Star trails above the European Space Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile, showing three of the four auxiliary telescopes of the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI). Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi

Star trails above the European Space Observatory’s Paranal Observatory in Chile, showing three of the four auxiliary telescopes of the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI). Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi

There are so many colorful streaks in that image above that you’d be forgiven for thinking somebody is shooting lasers around the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile. Actually, though, this demonstrates a common technique for astronomy photo-taking where you do a time lapse to watch the stars moving as the Earth makes its daily rotation.

The image of auxiliary telescopes of Very Large Telescope Interferometer is not only pretty, but does have some scientific interest as well, ESO said.

“This technique … enhances the natural colours of the stars, which gives an indication of their temperature, ranging from about 1000 degrees Celsius [1,832 Fahrenheit] for the reddest stars to a few tens of thousands of degrees Celsius [or Fahrenheit] for the hottest, which appear blue. The sky in this remote and high location in Chile is extremely clear and there is no light pollution, offering us this amazing light show,” stated the European Southern Observatory.

According to ESO, these supplementary telescopes working together allow astronomers to “see details up to 25 times finer than with the individual telescopes.” You can read more about the VLTI at this ESO link, which includes some interesting facts — such as why the interferometers are named Antu, Kueyen, Melipal and Yepun.

Source: European Southern Observatory

About 

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

Kawarthajon December 19, 2013 at 10:14 AM

Wow, that is a very cool picture. Love the colours!

TerryG December 19, 2013 at 11:17 PM

Counting the three scopes from left to right as 1, 2 and 3, then red star could be Betelgeuse, with the brightest blue star between 2 and 3 looking like Rigel.

If so, that would explain the explosion of color to the 11 o’clock of scope 2 as Orion’s belt.

Any one else get that?

muffie1801 December 21, 2013 at 2:14 PM

The brightest blue star between 2 and 3 is Sirius. Orion is entirely between 1 and 2. The brightest star nearest to the left edge is Aldebaran in Taurus.

TerryG December 21, 2013 at 7:55 PM

Cheers. Thanks Meffie

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