ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) - Paranal
ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) - Paranal

The ESO Very Large Telescope in Chile

Since February 2001, mankind has been opening a new eye into the universe: with the Very Large Telescope (VLT). The VLT provides researchers with extremely sharp images – achievable due to the very high positioning accuracy of all elements of this new observatory. To reach these targets, technology from Leica Geosystems was used. The European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the Paranal Observatory (Atacama, Chile) is the world’s largest and most advanced optical telescope. It was constructed as a joint project, by eight European countries.

It comprises four 8.2 m reflecting Unit Telescopes and several moving 1.8 m Auxiliary Telescopes, the light beams of which can be combined in the VLT Interferometer (VLTI). With is unprecedented optical resolution and unsurpassed surface area, the VLT produces extremely sharp images and can record light from the faintest and most remote places in the Universe. The Paranal Observatory is located on the top of Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert in the northern part of Chile, which is believed to be the driest area on Earth. Cerro Paranal is a 2,635 m high mountain, about 120 km south of Antofagasta town and 12 km inland from the Pacific Coast. The geographical coordinates are 24o 40' S, 70o 25' W. The Paranal mountain was chosen because of its excellent atmospheric conditions and, not the least, for its remoteness. This will ensure that the astronomical observations to be carried out there, and will not be disturbed by adverse human activities, e.g. dust and light from roads and mines. For the astronomical construction of this complex, it was necessary to use the highest technology. To guarantee highest quality and precision for this gigantic construction, precise and sophisticated Leica Geosystems instruments were used: Leica TM5100A theodolites and Leica TDA5005 laser stations. Leica Geosystems’ representative in Chile, Cientec Instrumentos Cientificos S.A., Santiago, supported the application.

By Gabriel Garland

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