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Thursday, June 25, 1998 Published at 22:27 GMT 23:27 UK


New visions of the skies

Probably the most powerful telescope in the world

Move over Hubble Space Telescope. A ground-breaking telescope has released new pictures of the cosmos, every bit as sharp and clear as those taken from space. The Very Large Telescope, in northern Chile, started looking into the skies a month ago. Our science editor Dr David Whitehouse reports.

Astronomers at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) celebrated 'first light,' the first astronomical images taken by the telescope, a month ago. They now have a growing collection of spectacular images.

[ image: A so-called planetary nebula]
A so-called planetary nebula
This so-called planetary nebula is caused when a star, possibly similar to our sun, blows off material into space.

It then becomes brighter and causes the gas to glow.

Our sun may do this one day.

[ image: Close-up on Messier 83]
Close-up on Messier 83
Astronomers are delighted with their close-up images of the galaxy Messier 83. It shows faint stars, stellar clusters and clouds of gas and dust.

The commissioning phase of the telescopes will continue until April 1999. Then astronomers from all over the world will be able to use the telescopes.

Eventually the Very Large Telescope (VLT) will be the most powerful in the world or off it.

Even though Hubble is in space and above the earth's turbulent and distorting atmosphere it is not a very large telescope. It is based on 1970's technology and astronomers can now do much better.

When completed, the VLT will consist of four giant telescopes that can either work independently or together.

Situated on a mountain 2,600 metres above sea level on the fringes of the Atacama desert in South America the Paranal Observatory has one of the most unpolluted and clear observing sites in the world.

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