First Image of a Black Hole
The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) — a planet-scale array of eight ground-based radio telescopes forged through international collaboration — was designed to capture images of a black hole. In coordinated press conferences across the globe, EHT researchers revealed that they succeeded, unveiling the first direct visual evidence of the supermassive black hole in the centre of Messier 87 and its shadow. The shadow of a black hole seen here is the closest we can come to an image of the black hole itself, a completely dark object from which light cannot escape. The black hole’s boundary — the event horizon from which the EHT takes its name — is around 2.5 times smaller than the shadow it casts and measures just under 40 billion km across. While this may sound large, this ring is only about 40 microarcseconds across — equivalent to measuring the length of a credit card on the surface of the Moon.
Bubbles of Brand New Stars
Dazzling region of newly-forming stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) was captured by the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. The relatively small amount of dust in the LMC and MUSE’s acute vision allowed intricate details of the region to be picked out in visible light.
Fleeting Moment in Time
The faint, ephemeral glow emanating from the planetary nebula ESO 577-24 persists for only a short time — around 10,000 years, a blink of an eye in astronomical terms. ESO’s Very Large Telescope captured this shell of glowing ionised gas — the last breath of the dying star whose simmering remains are visible at the heart of this image. As the gaseous shell of this planetary nebula expands and grows dimmer, it will slowly disappear from sight. This stunning planetary nebula was imaged by one of the VLT’s most versatile instruments, FORS2. The instrument captured the bright, central star, Abell 36, as well as the surrounding planetary nebula. The red and blue portions of this image correspond to optical emission at red and blue wavelengths, respectively. An object much closer to home is also visible in this image — an asteroid wandering across the field of view has left a faint track below and to the left of the central star. And in the far distance behind the nebula a glittering host of background galaxies can be seen.
Serpentine system sculpted by colliding stellar winds
The VLT has captured this stunning image of a newly discovered massive triple star system, perhaps the first ever gamma-ray burst progenitor found.This serpentine swirl has an explosive future ahead of it being a Wolf-Rayet star system, and a likely source of one of the most energetic phenomena in the Universe — a long-duration gamma-ray burst (GRB).
Super-Earth Orbiting Barnard’s Star
The nearest single star to the Sun hosts an exoplanet at least 3.2 times as massive as Earth — a so-called super-Earth. One of the largest observing campaigns to date using data from a world-wide array of telescopes, including ESO’s planet-hunting HARPS instrument, have revealed this frozen, dimly lit world. The newly discovered planet is the second-closest known exoplanet to the Earth. Barnard’s star is the fastest moving star in the night sky.
ESO Confirms Black Hole status at Milky Way Centre
ESO’s exquisitely sensitive GRAVITY instrument has added further evidence to the long-standing assumption that a supermassive black hole lurks in the centre of the Milky Way. New observations show clumps of gas swirling around at about 30% of the speed of light on a circular orbit just outside its event horizon — the first time material has been observed orbiting close to the point of no return, and the most detailed observations yet of material orbiting this close to a black hole.
Galactic Gem NGC 3981
FORS2, an instrument mounted on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, has observed the spiral galaxy NGC 3981 in all its glory. The image was captured as part of the ESO Cosmic Gems Programme, which makes use of the rare occasions when observing conditions are not suitable for gathering scientific data. Instead of sitting idle, the ESO Cosmic Gems Programme allows ESO’s telescopes to be used to capture visually stunning images of the southern skies.
Neptune from the VLT with MUSE/GALACSI Narrow Field Mode adaptive optics
ESO’s VLT has achieved first light with a new adaptive optics mode called laser tomography capturing remarkably sharp test images of the planet Neptune, star clusters and other objects. The pioneering MUSE instrument in Narrow-Field Mode, working with the GALACSI adaptive optics module, can now use this new technique to correct for turbulence at different altitudes in the atmosphere. It is now possible to capture images from the ground at visible wavelengths that are sharper than those from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The combination of exquisite image sharpness and the spectroscopic capabilities of MUSE will enable astronomers to study the properties of astronomical objects in much greater detail than was possible before.
Most Precise Test of Einstein’s General Relativity Outside Milky Way
Astronomers using the VLT in Chile, and the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, have made the most precise test yet of Einstein’s general theory of relativity outside the Milky Way. The nearby galaxy ESO 325-G004 acts as a strong gravitational lens, distorting light from a distant galaxy behind it to create an Einstein ring around its centre. By comparing the mass of ESO 325-G004 with the curvature of space around it, the astronomers found that gravity on these astronomical length-scales behaves as predicted by general relativity. This rules out some alternative theories of gravity.
Carbon Rich Asteroid in Kuiper Belt
ESO astronomers have investigated a relic of the primordial Solar System. The unusual Kuiper Belt Object 2004 EW95 is a carbon-rich asteroid, the first of its kind to be confirmed in the cold outer reaches of the Solar System. It has most likely formed in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and later flung billions of kilometres from its origin to its current home in the Kuiper Belt
Dead Star Circled by Light
Spectacular new pictures, created from images from both ground- and space-based telescopes, tell the story of the hunt for an elusive missing object hidden amid a complex tangle of gaseous filaments in the Small Magellanic Cloud, about 200 000 light-years from Earth.
Closest Temperate World Orbiting Quiet Star Discovered
A temperate Earth-sized planet has been discovered only 11 light-years from Earth using ESO’s unique planet-hunting HARPS instrument. The new world has been designated Ross 128b and is now the second closest temperate planet so far detected after Proxima b. It is also the closest planet to be discovered orbiting an inactive red dwarf star, which may increase the likelihood that this planet could potentially sustain life. Ross 128 b will be a prime target for ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope, which will be able to search for biomarkers in the planet's atmosphere.
Best Ever Image of a Star’s Surface and Atmosphere
Quite amazing is the new VLT Interferometer imager where astronomers have constructed the most detailed picture ever of a star, the red supergiant Antares. They have also made the first map of the velocities of material in the atmosphere of a star other than the Sun, revealing unexpected turbulence in Antares’s huge extended atmosphere.
Dazzling Spiral with an Active Heart
Magnificent face-on view of the barred spiral galaxy Messier 77. The image does justice to the galaxy’s beauty, showcasing its glittering arms criss-crossed with dust lanes.This impressive luminosity is caused by intense radiation blasting out from a central engine — the accretion disc surrounding a super massive black hole. Material that falls towards the black hole is compressed and heated up to incredible temperatures, causing it to radiate a tremendous amount of energy.