Paranal Observatory

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Paranal Observatory
Very Large Telescope units on Cerro Paranal
Very Large Telescope units on Cerro Paranal
Organization European Southern Observatory
Code 309  
Location Cerro Paranal, Chile
Coordinates 24°37′38″S 70°24′15″W / 24.62722°S 70.40417°W / -24.62722; -70.40417Coordinates: 24°37′38″S 70°24′15″W / 24.62722°S 70.40417°W / -24.62722; -70.40417
Altitude 2,635 metres (8,645 ft)
Website ESO - VLT
Very Large Telescope 8.2 m reflector (×4)
VLT Auxiliary Telescope 1.8 m reflector (×4)
VISTA Telescope 4.0 m reflector
VLT Survey Telescope 2.6 m reflector

Paranal Observatory is an astronomical observatory operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO); it is located in the Atacama desert of northern Chile on Cerro Paranal at 2,635 m (8,645 ft) altitude, 120 km (70 mi) south of Antofagasta. By total light-collecting area, it is the largest optical-infrared observatory in the Southern hemisphere; worldwide, it is second to the Mauna Kea Observatory on Hawaii.

The Very Large Telescope (VLT), the largest telescope on Paranal, is composed of four separate 8.2 m (320 in) telescopes. In addition, the four main telescopes can combine their light to make a fifth instrument, the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI). Four auxiliary telescopes of 1.8 m (71 in) each are also part of the VLTI to make it available when the main telescopes are being used for other projects.

The site also houses the 2.6 m (100 in) VLT Survey Telescope and 4.0 m (160 in) VISTA survey telescope with wider fields of view for surveying large areas of sky uniformly.


Aerial view[edit]

The four VLTs and ATs and the VST on the main peak and VISTA in the background
The four VLTs and ATs and the VST on the main peak and VISTA in the background

From an aerial view of the Paranal Oberservatory, the four large units of the VLT with their four small, dome-shaped auxiliary telescopes can be clearly seen. The Survey Telescope, VST, is immediately adjacent to the VLT and seen in between two of its units, while VISTA is located on a secondary peak, some 1,500 m away in the background (see image).

Very Large Telescope[edit]

Main article: Very Large Telescope

The Very Large Telescope (VLT) consists of four 8.2-metre telescopes operating in the visible and infrared. These telescopes, along with four smaller auxiliary telescopes, are also combined to operate as an optical interferometer on certain nights of the year. All of the 8.2-metre telescopes have adaptive optics and a full suite of instruments.

VISTA Survey Telescope[edit]

Main article: VISTA (telescope)

VISTA is the Visible & Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy, a 4.0-metre telescope with a wide field of view, that will focus on infrared surveys of the sky. VISTA was built close to ESO's VLT by a consortium of 18 UK universities led by Queen Mary, University of London it was handed over to the European Southern Observatory in December 2009

VLT Survey Telescope (VST)[edit]

Main article: VLT Survey Telescope

The VLT Survey Telescope or VST is a 2.6-metre telescope with a wide field imager intended to aid the four Very Large Telescope (VLTs) in their scientific aims.

Other buildings[edit]

As well as the telescopes, control buildings and maintenance facilities, Paranal has a Residencia (ESO Hotel) which provides accommodation for staff and visitors. This is located 200 m lower and 3 km from the telescopes. It is built half into the mountain with the concrete coloured to blend into the landscape. It has gym facilities, a swimming pool, a restaurant and two gardens. The construction was decorated by the Chilean architect Paula Gutiérrez Erlandsen, Marchioness of la Pica.[1]


360-degree Panorama of the southern sky above the Paranal platform

Popular culture and other uses[edit]

The VLT hotel, the Residencia, served as a backdrop for part of the 2008 James Bond film Quantum of Solace.

The observatory's facilities were used to stage the Pacific Alliance's fourth summit in June 2012, formally launching the organization.

On 14 March 2013, Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark, accompanied by his wife, Princess Mary, visited ESO’s Paranal Observatory, as part of an official visit to Chile. Their tour of Paranal astronomical facilities was led by ESO’s Director General, Tim de Zeeuw.

The visit of the Prince and Princess of Asturias to the observatory
The Crown Prince of Denmark visits the observatory.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]