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The VLT exoplanet hunter SPHERE is offered to the community

SPHERE, the extreme adaptive optics facility, high contrast imager spectrograph and polarimeter of the Very Large Telescope, is now offered to the community for P95 (April-Sept 2015, please look at the Call for Proposals). It has unique capabilities that make it a fantastic high-resolution, high-contrast disk imager with a field of view up to 11″ (much bigger than most of its main competitors). Material is available online to help you write your proposals.

SPHERE at VLT/UT3

SPHERE at VLT/UT3 © ESO/ J. Girard

SPHERE can lock its AO on fainter stars than GPI, up to R=11 for service mode and up to R~15 in visitor mode (with degraded AO performances of course). This is interesting for low-mass stars! Nevertheless, and unlike for NACO or SINFONI, the AO star must always be on-axis.

SPHERE IRDIS J-band images

SPHERE IRDIS J-band saturated, coronagraphic and processed images with a companion, iota Sgr b, a very low-mass star 4,000 times fainter at 0.24″ from its parent star.

AO preliminary performances of SPHERE SAXO

Simulated and measured (H-band, circles, by T. Fusco) SPHERE-SAXO Strehl ratio as a function of R magnitude. This is preliminary, result of 3 commissioning runs only! Check updates of the User Manual in the future months (just click on the image to get to the ESO SPHERE public pages).

SPHERE can also observe in visible light thanks to its imager/polarimeter ZIMPOL and access resolution of the order of 20 milliarcseconds thanks to its high order (over 1300 actuators deformable mirror) adaptive optics system SAXO.

I'-band observations with SPHERE/ZIMPOL

Left: binary star observed in I’-band centered at 790 nm (red light), the separation is 0.15″. Right: companion detected ~150,000 times (12 magnitudes) fainter than its parent star at only 0.2″. It’s a bit like distinguishing a candle right next to a light house from 500 miles!
(Data reduction: C. Thalmann)

Let’s congratulate the whole SPHERE consortium and ESO staff involved since many years with such a novel, complex but working instrument!

Apocalyptic weather on Paranal

As some would say: “the Winter is coming…”

Threatening Clouds over Paranal Observatory

Threatening clouds over Paranal Observatory

This is unusual to get such dark and threatening clouds above one of the driest place on Earth. But it’s been so for two days and we just hope that no drops of rain will fall down because the Observatory is not made for rain and that’s just more hassle for the staff and of course for the occasional visitors who are not getting their projects done.

Tonight it got worse, the wind is blowing over 20 meters/second (45 miles/hour) and the humidity rose above 50% due to the proximity of the clouds.

In the morning it did look promising though… I really like this metallic light and feeling we get just before sunrise (not much sun today). The horizon was so clear, we could see the snow on the Cordillera a few hundred km away as well as on the 6739m (21,300 ft) Llullaillaco Volcano which is in Argentina.

night is over, clouds are there

night is over, clouds are there

But the Observatory routine (and life!) does not stop. The cleaning ladies walk towards the residencia…

Usual morning walk from the "village" to the Residencia, under the unusual clouds.

Usual morning walk from the “village” to the Residencia, under the unusual clouds.

At night, after a rough day of work taking care of all the instruments and facilities some French engineers play with their “toys for boys”: they fly helicopters in the gym!

Sebastien Poupar flying his helicoper

Sebastien Poupar flying his helicoper

Pierre Bourget tuning his big helicopter

Pierre Bourget tuning his big helicopter

At the end of the night, the scenery is impressive. Here’s a long exposure shot above the Residencia at 6:00am. we can see the Southern Cross making its way through the moving clouds and the important airglow. The night isn’t completely lost, at least for me!

Entering a cloudy twilight, back to the Residencia!

Entering a cloudy twilight, back to the Residencia!

You can see more photos about the past 48 hours of cloudy Paranal on this Flickr Photo Set.

Roger shoots

December 21st 2012 and the Mayans

CNRS (the main French research agency) put up a very nice video about December 21st 2012 and the Mayans. Even if you don’t speak French, give it a look!

I hope it get translated/subtitled in other languages soon.

We are safe ;)

http://videotheque.cnrs.fr/doc=3968
(click on “Visionner”)

Les Mayas, le calendrier et le 21-12-2012 – Vidéo Dailymotion.

Les Mayas, le calendrier et le 21-12-2012 is also accessible on DailyMotion.

I ♥ astronomy

http://www.flickr.com/photos/djulik/6264962767/

As one can see (I put notes on the flickr image, click on it) this 25-second exposure taken on October 20, 2011 contains a lot of things (the Earth’s zodiacal light, the “Kiwi”, the galactic center, the VLT observatory, a big heart in light painting, etc.) and it is a tribute to my wife who came to live in Chile with me so I could pursue my dream with astronomy. I stood behind my camera setup on a small tripod and fired the timer, then I drew a heart in the air using my ESO tiny key-chain Maglite®. It took me quite a few tried to get it like that especially not having a press-button flash light. Pressed against my fingers the heart was pink/red naturally and I just accentuated the pink.

This Picture was selected as ESO Picture of the week in february 2012 as a Valentine’s day image:
www.eso.org/public/images/potw1207a/
www.facebook.com/ESOAstronomy

(more…)

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