La Silla Observatory

The La Silla Observatory, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile and at an altitude of 2400 metres, has been an ESO stronghold since the 1960s. Here, ESO operates several of the most productive 4-metre class telescopes in the world.

The 3.58-metre New Technology Telescope (NTT) broke new ground for telescope engineering and design and was the first in the world to have a computer-controlled main mirror (active optics), a technology developed at ESO and now applied to most of the world’s current large telescopes.

The ESO 3.6-metre telescope is now home to the world’s foremost extrasolar planet hunter: HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher), a spectrograph with unrivalled precision.

The La Silla Observatory is the first world-class observatory to have been granted certification for the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9001 Quality Management System. The infrastructure of La Silla is also used by many of the ESO member states for targeted projects such as the Swiss 1.2-metre Euler telescope, the Rapid-Eye Mount (REM) and TAROT gamma-ray burst chaser, as well as more common user facilities such as the 2.2-metre Max Planck and the 1.5-metre Danish telescopes. The 67-million pixel Wide Field Imager on the 2.2-metre telescope has taken many amazing images of celestial objects, some of which have now become icons in their own right.

With about 300 refereed publications attributable to the work of the observatory per year, La Silla remains at the forefront of astronomy. La Silla has led to an enormous number of scientific discoveries, including several “firsts”. The HARPS spectrograph is the undisputed champion at finding low-mass extrasolar planets. It detected the system around Gliese 581, which contains what may be the first known rocky planet in a habitable zone, outside the Solar System (eso0722). Several telescopes at La Silla played a crucial role in linking gamma-ray bursts — the most energetic explosions in the Universe since the Big Bang — with the explosions of massive stars. Since 1987, the ESO La Silla Observatory has also played an important role in the study and follow-up of the nearest recent supernova, SN 1987A.

The La Silla Observatory is located at the outskirts of the Chilean Atacama Desert, one of the driest and loneliest areas of the world. Like other observatories in this geographical area, La Silla is located far from sources of light pollution and, like the Paranal Observatory, home to the Very Large Telescope, it has one of the darkest night skies on the Earth.

The information of this article was extracted from ESO’s official website.

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