Observing at La Silla, Andes Mountains, Chile

The planetary nebula M2-9 as imaged by HST

This is a photolog providing an insight into what astronomers get up to when they disappear up high mountains.

Also featuring my research student Neil Vaytet.

La Silla was the first observatory built in Chile by the European Southern Observatory. You can find out more on the La Silla web pages.

We were using the ESO (European Southern Observatory) 3.6-metre New Technology Telescope (NTT) to study planetary nebulae (PNe). These are the endpoints of the evolution of stars similar to the Sun. When a star like this runs out of hydrogen fuel in the nuclear furnace at its core, it expands to become a red giant. The outer layers drift off into space and are illuminated by the exposed hot core, a dead star about the the size of the Earth which we call a white dwarf. This glowing gas is called a planetary nebula (a historical misnomer as it has nothing to do with planets).

Some of these nebulae are particularly beautiful but the origin of their complex shapes is still unknown. One theory suggests that the star which ejected the nebula has an orbiting companion which sculpts the outflowing material. We have selected a sample of PNe which are known to have binary central stars and are using a combination of imaging and spectroscopy (splitting the light into a spectrum and using the Doppler shift to measure the speed of expansion) to determine the structure of the nebula and probe any relationship with the central binary itself.

This work is being carried out in collaboration with other astronomers including Myfanwy Bryce and John Meaburn at Manchester, Don Pollacco at Queens University Belfast and Alberto Lopez of the Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mexico.

Tim O'Brien

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Panoramic view of La Silla Observatory
Tue May 1 00:37:23 2007
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The long (and not winding) road from La Serena to La Silla
Fri Apr 27 00:57:31 2007
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Several telescopes on La Silla
Fri Apr 27 00:59:33 2007
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The same telescopes as the Sun begins to set
Fri Apr 27 01:05:54 2007
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Sunset and the 0.5m ESO telescope (left) and the 0.7-m Swiss telescope
Fri Apr 27 01:08:12 2007
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The Mountains and the Moon in a darkening sky
Fri Apr 27 01:09:45 2007
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The 0.5-m Danish telescope (left) and the 0.5-m ESO telescope at sunset
Fri Apr 27 01:12:50 2007
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The 0.6-m Bochum telescope at sunset
Fri Apr 27 01:14:38 2007
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Sunset over the western slopes of the Andes and the Pacific ocean beyond 1
Fri Apr 27 01:19:27 2007
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Sunset over the western slopes of the Andes and the Pacific ocean beyond 2
Fri Apr 27 02:09:54 2007
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The Moon and the 1.52-m Spectrographic telescope with sunset colours
Fri Apr 27 06:27:50 2007
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Neil at sunset flanked by the 0.9-m Dutch telescope (left) and the Danish and ESO 0.5-m telescopes
Fri Apr 27 02:15:05 2007
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Mountain view
Sat Apr 28 00:57:11 2007
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Looking north with the telescopes of the nearby Las Campanas Observatory visible on the skyline just left of centre
Sat Apr 28 00:58:21 2007
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An array of telescopes, from left to right, the 2.2-m ESO-MPI, the 1-m Schmidt, the 3.6m NTT and the 3.6-m
Sat Apr 28 01:00:28 2007
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The NTT atop its rocky outcrop
Sat Apr 28 01:01:45 2007
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The mountains to the northwest
Sat Apr 28 01:03:06 2007
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The misty mountains looking southwest
Sat Apr 28 01:04:55 2007
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The mountains to the northeast
Sat Apr 28 01:06:35 2007
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The Swedish-ESO submillimeter telescope (SEST) viewing an expanse of the southern sky
Sat Apr 28 01:08:50 2007
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Late afternoon at La Silla viewed from the 3.6-m telescope
Sat Apr 28 01:11:23 2007
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Neil considering the photographic possibilities
Sat Apr 28 01:12:57 2007
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Solar occultation by the telescope with no name as the NTT looks on
Sat Apr 28 01:14:24 2007
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Telescopes in late afternoon sun
Sat Apr 28 01:16:11 2007
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Sunset from my balcony
Sat Apr 28 01:19:08 2007
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Neil and Alessandro (one of our support astronomers) in front of the NTT
Sun Apr 29 04:25:57 2007
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Myself and Neil in front of NTT (note fans behind our heads to blow air over mirror)
Sun Apr 29 04:28:12 2007
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Neil with his new friend EMMI at the Nasmyth port of the NTT
Sun Apr 29 04:35:02 2007
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Neil snacks on his pen as Arial (our telescope operator) does the donkey work
Sun Apr 29 04:36:51 2007
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I take the chance to top up my tan from the VDU called BOB (Broker for Observation Blocks)
Sun Apr 29 04:42:38 2007
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I practise sleeping with my eyes open as Neil discusses the finer points of MyCn18
Sun Apr 29 04:48:43 2007
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Discover your inner geek and check out the seeing conditions and met data from our first night of observations
Mon Apr 30 02:22:09 2007
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Pathway to dawn
Mon Apr 30 02:23:48 2007
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Neil takes advantage of the strong wind and inflates his parka in a vain attempt to fly
Mon Apr 30 02:45:56 2007
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Looking west at dawn - the shadow of the eastern mountains can be seen above the horizon (the more observant may be able to spot inverse anticrepuscular rays, no kidding)
Mon Apr 30 02:28:03 2007
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First light of sunrise catches the western mountaintops whilst mist fills the valleys below
Mon Apr 30 02:31:58 2007
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Early morning light on the western flanks of the Andes
Mon Apr 30 02:33:35 2007
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One of the locals joins us for our evening meal before observing starts
Tue May 1 00:21:11 2007
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The NTT and Venus looking rather like a 21st century Mayan pyramid
Tue May 1 00:28:42 2007
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The RITZ (Remote Integrated Telescope Zentrum) contains control rooms for three telescopes - here the 2.2-m ESO-MPG on the left and the 3.6-m NTT on the right
Tue May 1 02:28:32 2007
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Time is crucial to astronomy - the La Silla Telescopes are synchronised with a high-tech Swiss timepiece in the kitchen of the RITZ - this signal is transported north to Paranal on the back of a Fennec Fox and fed into the VLTI correlator
Tue May 1 02:24:40 2007
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Thumbnail photo list created using pix2tn written by Michael Hahsler.
Index created: Sun Apr 29 05:05:37 2007.