Saturday, April 20, 2024

A Silent Watcher of The Earth's Southern Hemisphere

A Silent Watcher of The Earth's Southern Hemisphere

The top half of the image is taken up by the night sky, dotted with thousands of tiny white stars. The sky goes from darker blue at the top to green and orange at the horizon with faint pink patches in between. In the top third of the image are two white-bluish cloud-like structures and a thin white streak. The steely circular dish of a telescope in the center of the image reflects colors of the sky. In the foreground we see the rocks and grass on the ground in front of the telescope; behind it, a mountain range in shades of violet and blue stretches into the distance.

This picture shows the stunning night sky over the Swedish–ESO Submillimeter Telescope (SEST) telescope at the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. Until its retirement in 2003, SEST used its 15-meter main dish to observe the cold gas clouds where stars form. Now the telescope, perching at 2,375 meters altitude, watches silently over the landscape of the Atacama Desert.

While SEST stands in one of the darkest places on the planet, the sky itself is not completely black— rather the opposite! Here, besides thousands of stars, the picture features shades of red and green across the sky—an atmospheric phenomenon called airglow. In the bottom-left part of the sky we can see a portion of the band of the Milky Way, our home galaxy, and in the top half, two cloud-like structures that look like galactic fireworks. These are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, two dwarf galaxies that orbit the Milky Way, trapped by its gravity. They are visible to the naked eye and have been known since ancient times to indigenous peoples in the Southern Hemisphere,. They often compared them with water ponds or even animals like pigs or tapirs.

In this picture, there is even a shooting star coming by to say hello to SEST. Can you spot it in the sky? 

Credit: European Southern Observatory (ESO)/A. Ghizzi Panizza )

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Release Date: March 18, 2024

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