The Lone Ear … Really?

The Lone Ear...

The Lone Ear…

What a boring image, right? Well, it’s colorful, it has the Milky Way and the dominant subject is astronomical instrument. The reflective plate is, in fact, the Swedish-ESO Submilimetre Telescope at the southern part of the large complex of La Silla Observatory. It suppossed to be antenna observing the Universe in sub-millimetre wavelenghts, which would allow to study especially star formation regions or the molecular clouds in the Milky Way. Unfortunately, it was decommissioned in 2003 as it’s superseded by APEX, and ALMA, on Chajnantor. The lone ear is more-less photogenic subject at the observatory and gives lot of opportunities to take some inspirational shots. Still boring? Let’s take a bit closer look!

Even if the first look suggests only view to the antenne with the Milky Way, poetically „smoking“ up behind the plate, the sky is, however, incredibelly full of numerous interesting objects in the sky. First at all, you can notice the comet Lovejoy on the left side from the antenne. This celestial nomad is, actually, located in a glow called the zodiacal light. Very close to the comet’s tail can be found beautiful star cluster Pleiades and down from that complements both objects pink worm shaped nebula California. Even larger star cluster, the Hyades, can be seen as it creates the head of the starry Bull. All those objects are located not so high above the horizon, where is very easily noticeable colorful atmospheric airglow. Just on the right side, very low above the horizon, the structures of the airglow are effected by the gravity waves. If we continue in the plane of the faint part of the Milky Way, we can notice lot of HII hydrogen regions, showing as emmision nebulae, especially in the constellation Orion above the antenne. Well, the Orion hunter is a chapter itself. For example the bright orange star, Betelgeuze, is one of the largest stars known in the Universe. If we put it in the solar system, the surface of Betelgeuze could reach over the planet Jupiter’s orbit. This massive star is going to be the brightest supernova in the sky, somewhen in the not so far future. Besides the next amazing naked-eye visible objects like Great Orion Nebula in the area, the next bright nebula is also Rosetta, which would be very faintly visible to the naked eyes too. But you need really dark skies with no light pollution, which is not a problem in the Atacama Desert at all. In fact, every ghostly shining object in this image is no artefact, which could be proven by very dim white nebula close to the star Rigel, which is – in long exposure images – shaped like scary Witch Head. The brightest star in the upper part of the image is, in fact, the brightest star of the night sky – „dog star“ Sirius. Surrounded by many star clusters, catalogized by French astronomer Charles Messier in 19th and 20th century, is one of the most spectacular objects in the mid-January time from both hemispheres. And not so far from Sirius, the Milky Way hosts faint but but for photographers very challenging Seagull nebula too.

The Lone Ear … Really?

The Lone Ear … Really?

But even here the rich list of objects doesn’t end. If you take a closer look directly to the reflecting surface of the antenne, you may notice more objects, which are actually located behind the scene, on the opposite way. This somehow completes the whole view to the visible Milky Way in the moment, as the last upper objects in the sky are the first in the upside down reflection. The Milky Way continues in the reflection to the southern celestial pole, with faint but incredibely large Gum Nebula, naked-eye Carina Nebula, and the famous constellation Southern Cross. Two brighter wisps close to the center of the plate are the dwarf galaxies, the Magellanic clouds. There’s no doubt that the southern sky is really beautiful with many noticeable stars and the reflections shows at least four of them. The brightest ones are Canopus (under the center) and extreme-rotating star Achernar (on the right side), in fact both from list of the brightest stars in the sky. But the list with fabulous stars continues, if you take a look close to the reflected horizon in the plate. The colorful starry visual „twins“ contain actually two of the three closest stars to our Sun, in the Alpha Centauri (the more yellow one). In the sky, we can see it like one bright star, but a larger telescope can show that this is double star. The system contains even third component, the Proxima Centauri, which is now in full concentration by the ESO’s great campain Pale Red Dot. The bluish star close to the Alpha Centauri is Hadar (a.k.a. Beta Centauri), very fast rotating star, about 352 ly distant from the Sun. What is probably the most incredible in the image, is the fact that it was actually not captured long time after sunset and the sky is so rich for the stars and the deep-sky objects despite the rest shine of the dusk over the western horizon (visible in the reflection too). And even in the area of no remarkable object on the left upper corner there is, actually, not pretty empty view. For the largest telescopes, this area is favorable for observing the most distant part of the Universe as it’s a direction out of the plane of the Milky Way, with lesser quantity of the intestellar matter of our Galaxy, which blocks the view in many wavelenghts… So ask yourself again: Is it still boring image?

For the full over view of visible objects in the image, please take a look on the annotated version. Capured on 20th January 2015 and used Canon 6D IR Baader modified, Samyang 24 mm, f2.8, ISO 10000, 23×15 second panorama, captured from tripod.