The 10 most outstanding astronomical discoveries of ESO

The observations made with the telescopes of ESO have allowed a great amount of advances in the area of ​​astronomy, and, over the years, have been responsible for some findings of fundamental importance. Below is the list of ESO’s 10 most outstanding astronomical discoveries to date.

1. Stars that orbit the black hole of the Milky Way

Several of ESO’s most iconic telescopes were used in a study conducted over 16 years to get the most detailed view of the environment surrounding the monster that lives in the heart of our galaxy, a supermassive black hole.

2. The acceleration of the expansion of the Universe

Two independent research teams, through observations of stellar explosions, including those obtained with the ESO telescopes at La Silla and Paranal, demonstrated that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating. This result obtained the Nobel Prize in Physics 2011.

3. Discovery of a planet in the habitable zone surrounding the nearest star, Proxima Centauri.

The planet, long sought and designated next b, orbits its cold red host star every 11 days and has a temperature suitable for the existence of liquid water on its surface. This rocky planet is a bit more massive than Earth and is the closest exoplanet to us (and it can also be the closest place where life is housed outside of the Solar System).

4. Revolutionary image of ALMA shows the planetary genesis.

In 2014, ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter / submillimeter Array, delivered important details of a solar system in formation. The images of HL Tauri were the sharpest ever obtained at submillimeter wavelengths. These show how the planets in formation suck dust and gas into a protoplanetary disk.

5. The first photograph of an exoplanet

The VLT obtained the first direct photograph of a planet located outside our solar system. It is a giant planet, approximately five times more massive than Jupiter, which is orbiting a brown dwarf at a distance equivalent to 55 times the distance between Earth and the Sun.

6. The first light of a gravitational wave source

A battery of ESO telescopes in Chile has detected the first visible counterpart of a gravitational wave source. These historical observations suggest that this unique object is the result of a fusion of two neutron stars. The cataclysmic sequelae of this type of fusion, events long predicted and called kilonovas, scatter in the universe heavy elements such as gold and platinum.

7. Direct measurements of the spectra of exoplanets and their atmospheres

Through the VLT, it was possible to analyze for the first time the atmosphere surrounding a super-Earth-type exoplanet. The planet, known as GJ 1214b, was studied as it passed in front of its host star and part of the starlight penetrated its atmosphere. The atmosphere is mostly water in the form of vapor or is dominated by dense clouds or fog. This is deduced from the first direct measurement of the spectrum of an exoplanet.

8. Independent measurement of the cosmic temperature

The VLT first detected carbon monoxide molecules in a galaxy located about 11 billion light-years away, a feat that for 25 years had been impossible to achieve. This allowed astronomers to obtain the most accurate measurement of the cosmic temperature at such a remote time.

9. The most populated planetary system

Astronomers, using ESO’s HARPS instrument, discovered a system composed of at least five planets orbiting a sun-like star known as HD 10180. They also provided evidence of the possible existence of two other planets, one of which could be the lowest mass observed to date. Also, the team found indications that the distances between the planets and their star follow a regular pattern, as in our Solar System.

10. Gamma-ray bursts – its nexus with supernovas and the fusion of neutron stars

The ESO telescopes have provided conclusive evidence that gamma-ray bursts are linked to the final explosion of massive stars, responding to a long-standing question mark. In addition, one of the telescopes at the La Silla Observatory was able to observe, for the first time, the visible light emitted by a short gamma-ray burst, showing that this category of objects probably originated due to the violent collision of two neutron stars. at the time of merging.

No doubt Chile is an important center of scientific research for the world!


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