Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Rock Star of Observatories


I occasionally stumble over that inadvertent reminder of what a nerd I am, but even for a nerd, my brain cannot take any more acronyms! For instance, when I first saw that "@ESO_Observatory" started following me on Twitter, I thought, "Now why would Environmental Science Officers follow me?"

But no, this would be the European Southern Observatory, headquartered in Germany. After I wrote a post about their beautiful astronomy book, Postcards From The Edge of the Universe, I've had the pleasure of chatting more extensively with the ESO's Community Coordinator, Oana Sandu, who also serves on The Space Generation Advisory Council and the World Space Week Association. Somehow, she also manages to write her own blog, Astronomy Communication and Outreach.

Oana Sandu, ESO
Oana's idea of LIGHT READING

The ESO was founded in 1962 as a consortium among Germany, France, Belgium, Holland and Sweden; in the 1980s, they were joined by Denmark, Switzerland and Italy. 21st Century additions include Portugal, Spain, Finland, Britain, Austria, Brazil and the Czech Republic. Their cooperative efforts employ 700+ people and operate three major astronomical observatories in Chile, which provide research facilities to astronomers and astrophysicists all over the world.

The ESO maintains the world's most powerful ground-based astronomical telescopes, each at an altitude over 8,000 feet, with state-of-the-art mirrors, Active Optics automation (i.e. computer-adjusted for greater clarity), and both spectrographic and photometric reflectors. They are home to the Very Large Telescope (VLT), and have captured some of the most amazing astronomical photographs ever produced during their Sky Surveys.

Star Factories
Distant Galaxy SMM 0102 "Star Factory"

Advice: Don't click over to their public gallery unless you have a few hours to kill. ;) Oana offered some great information about the organization's history, and the Top 10 Astronomical Discoveries at the ESO:

1. Our Accelerating Universe
2. The very first image of an Extra-Solar planet

3. Detection of the lightest Exoplanet yet found
4. Stars orbiting the Milky Way black hole
5. The gamma-ray burst / supernova connection
6. The merging neutron star / gamma-ray burst connection

7. Cosmic temperature independently measured
8. The motion of stars in the Milky Way

9. Oldest star known in the Milky Way
10. Most distant object measured to date.

Pretty incredible! And they show no signs of slowing. Their long-term goal for this decade will be to fund and complete the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) which will one day be, quite literally, Earth's largest "eye on the sky".

Chile Museum of Science and Technology
Santiago Astronomy Hall

I moved all my non-government space sites to a new Google Map which will be dedicated to museums. In honor of the ESO, the first museum added outside my American collection is the new Astronomy Hall at the Museum of Science and Technology, Santiago, Chile. The exhibitions were made possible by ESO funds, so I created a marker for them as my first international addition.

I must be a glutton for punishment to undertake another massive maps! Once I finished the Map of World Space Agencies, I revisited the list of space-related museums. I'll be adding more to each continent… and perhaps other sites of interest relating to space history or the space industry.

Schiaparelli's Dome? Arecibo Observatory? Stay tuned!