Rare “Red Sprites” Seen From ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile

This picture, taken from ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, shows bright red streaks known as red sprites. Credit: Zdenek Bardon/ESO.

This new image taken of the skies above Chile’s Atacama Desert near the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) La Silla Observatory, shows bright red streaks in the sky known as red sprites. Red sprites are large-scale electrical discharges that occur high above thunderstorm clouds, usually triggered by the discharges of positive lightning between an underlying thundercloud and the ground. However, the red sprites appear high in Earth’s atmosphere, sometimes 50-90 km in altitude.

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A THIRD Planet Found Orbiting Nearby Proxima Centauri

This artist’s impression shows Proxima d, a planet candidate recently found orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System. The planet is believed to be rocky and to have a mass about a quarter that of Earth. Two other planets known to orbit Proxima Centauri are visible in the image too: Proxima b, a planet with about the same mass as Earth that orbits the star every 11 days and is within the habitable zone, and candidate Proxima c, which is on a longer five-year orbit around the star.

In August of 2016, astronomers with the European Southern Observatory (ESO) announced that they had discovered an exoplanet orbiting in neighboring Proxima Centauri. Based on Radial Velocity measurements (aka. Doppler Photometry), the discovery team estimated that the planet was roughly the same size and mass as Earth and orbited with Proxima Centauri’s Circumsolar Habitable Zone (HZ). In 2020, this planet was confirmed by follow-up observations.

In that same year, a second exoplanet (Proxima c) roughly seven times the mass of Earth (a Super-Earth or mini-Neptune) was confirmed. As if that wasn’t enough, an international team of astronomers with the ESO recently announced that they detected a third exoplanet around Proxima Centauri – Proxima d! This Mars-sized planet orbits about halfway between its host star and Proxima b and is one of the lightest exoplanets ever discovered.

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Astronomers Measure the Layers of an Exoplanet's Atmosphere

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s data was used to analyze the atmosphere of the super-hot exoplanet WASP-79b, located 780 light-years away in the constellation Eridanus. Among exoplanets, WASP-79b is among the largest ever observed. The planet is larger than Jupiter, and its very deep, hazy atmosphere sizzles at 1,650 degrees Celsius – the temperature of molten glass. The Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories measured how starlight is filtered through the planet's atmosphere, allowing for its chemical composition to be analyzed. Hubble has detected the presence of water vapor. The surprise in recently published results, is that the planet's sky doesn't have any evidence for an atmospheric phenomenon called Rayleigh scattering, where certain colors of light are dispersed by very fine dust particles in the upper atmosphere. Rayleigh scattering is what makes Earth's skies blue by scattering the shorter (bluer) wavelengths of sunlight. Because WASP-79b doesn't seem to have this phenomenon, the daytime sky would likely be yellowish, researchers say. Link: NASA Press Release

The number of planets discovered beyond our Solar System has grown exponentially in the past twenty years, with 4,919 confirmed exoplanets (and another 8,493 awaiting confirmation)! Combined with improved instruments and data analysis, the field of study is entering into an exciting new phase. In short, the focus is shifting from discovery to characterization, where astronomers can place greater constraints on potential habitability.

In particular, the characterization of exoplanet atmospheres will allow astronomers to determine their chemical makeup and whether they have the right characteristics to support life. In a new study led by the University of Lund, an international team of researchers characterized the atmosphere of one of the most extreme exoplanets yet discovered. This included discerning what could be several distinct layers that have particular characteristics.

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A New Image Reveals Orion’s Flame Nebula in Infrared

Do not let the image and the name of the depicted cosmic object fool you! What you see in this picture is not a wildfire, but the Flame Nebula and its surroundings captured in radio waves. The Flame Nebula is the large feature on the left half of the central, yellow rectangle. The smaller feature on the right is the reflection nebula NGC 2023. To the top right of NGC 2023, the iconic Horsehead Nebula seems to emerge heroically from the “flames”. The three objects are part of the Orion cloud, a giant gas structure located between 1300 and 1600 light-years away. The different colours indicate the velocity of the gas. The Flame Nebula and its surroundings are moving away from us, with the red clouds in the background receding faster than the yellow ones in the foreground. The image in the rectangle is based on observations conducted with the SuperCam instrument on the ESO-operated Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) on Chile’s Chajnantor Plateau. The background image was taken in infrared light with ESO’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) at the Paranal Observatory in Chile.

The ESO has released some stunning new images of Orion’s Flame Nebula. They’re from a few years ago but are newly processed as part of the Orion cloud complex study. The images have led to discoveries in the often-observed Orion cloud complex.

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Astronomers Find 70 Planets Without Stars Floating Free in the Milky Way

This artist’s impression shows an example of a rogue planet with the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex visible in the background. Rogue planets have masses comparable to those of the planets in our Solar System but do not orbit a star, instead roaming freely on their own.

The field of extrasolar planet studies continues to reveal some truly amazing things about our Universe. After decades of having just a handful of exoplanets available for study, astronomers are now working with a total of 4,884 confirmed exoplanets and another 8,288 awaiting confirmation. This number is expected to increase exponentially in the coming years as next-generation missions like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), Euclid, PLATO, and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (RST) reveal tens of thousands more.

In addition to learning a great deal about the types of exoplanets that are out there and what kind of stars are known to give rise to them, astronomers have also made another startling discovery. There is no shortage of exoplanets in our galaxy that don’t have a parent star. Using telescopes from around the world, a team of astronomers recently discovered 70 additional free-floating planets (FFPs), the largest sample of “Rogue Planets” discovered to date, and nearly doubling the number of FFPs available for study.

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Images of 42 of the Biggest Asteroids in the Solar System

This image depicts 42 of the largest objects in the asteroid belt, located between Mars and Jupiter. Most of them are larger than 100 kilometres, with the two biggest asteroids being Ceres and Vesta, which are around 940 and 520 kilometres in diameter, and the two smallest ones being Urania and Ausonia, each only about 90 kilometres. The images of the asteroids have been captured with the Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch (SPHERE) instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope.

A huge team of astronomers have combined forces to use the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT) to provide the sharpest view ever of 42 of the largest objects in the asteroid belt, located between Mars and Jupiter.

Fittingly, the collection of images was released on the 42nd anniversary of the publication of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams. In the book, the number 42 is the answer to the “Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” These 42 images represent some of the sharpest views ever of these objects  — which might contribute to answering these ultimate questions!

Plus, there’s a great poster of the asteroids, too:

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The Galactic Beauty of Star Formation

Image of Galaxy NGC 3627 located in the constellation LEO. The golden gas glow corresponds to clouds of ionized hydrogen, while the bluish regions reveal the distribution of slightly older stars. Credit: ESO/PHANGS

I’d never seen galaxy images like this before. Nobody had! These images highlight star forming regions in nearby(ish) galaxies. There are still a number of unanswered questions surrounding how star formation actually occurs. To answer those questions, we are observing galaxies that are actively forming stars within giant clouds of gas. Until recently, we didn’t have the resolution needed to clearly image the individual gas clouds themselves. But images released by a project called PHANGS (Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS) in a collaboration between the European Southern Observatory Very Large Telescope and the Atacama Large millimeter/submillmeter Array (ALMA) have provided never before seen detail of star forming clouds in other galaxies.

This image combines observations of the nearby galaxies NGC 1300, NGC 1087, NGC 3627 (top, from left to right), NGC 4254 and NGC 4303 (bottom, from left to right) taken with the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). Each individual image is a combination of observations conducted at different wavelengths of light to map stellar populations and warm gas.. Image and Image Description PHANGS/ESO. Original Image
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A Powerful new Laser Will Enhance Adaptive Optics

In some applications, bigger lasers mean better lasers.  That is the case in astronomy, where lasers are used for everything from telescope calibration to satellite communication.  The European Southern Observatory (ESO) and some of its commercial partners have developed a laser 3 times more powerful than the existing industry standard.  With that increased power level, the new system has the potential to dramatically improve the way telescopes deal with one of the most fundamental problems in ground-based astronomy – atmospheric turbulence.

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The Giant Magellan Telescope’s 6th Mirror has Just Been Cast. One More to Go

By 2029, the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) in northern Chile will begin collecting its first light from the cosmos. As part of a new class of next-generation instruments known as “extremely large telescopes” (ELTs), the GMT will combine the power of sophisticated primary mirrors, flexible secondary mirrors, adaptive optics (AOs), and spectrometers to see further and with greater detail than any optical telescopes that came before.

At the heart of the telescope are seven monolithic mirror segments, each measuring 8.4 m (27.6 ft) in diameter, which will give it the resolving power of a 24.5 m (80.4 ft) primary mirror. According to recent statements from the GMT Organization (GMTO), the University of Arizona’s Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab began casting the sixth and seventh segments for the telescope’s primary mirror (which will take the next four years to complete).


Here’s the Extremely New Website for the Extremely Large Telescope

Welcome to elt.eso.org

In the vein of “go big or go home,” the European Southern Observatory (ESO) has launched a stunning new website to showcase information about — and match the scale of — its Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), the highly anticipated observatory scheduled to have first light in 2025.

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