The Milky Way serves as a celestial pathway between two telescopes in a stunning image from Chile’s Atacama Desert.
The telescopes are part of La Silla Observatory, a facility of the European Southern Observatory that has been in operation since the 1960s. “Here, ESO operates two of the most productive 4-metre class telescopes in the world,” observatory officials wrote on their website.
At right is the ESO 3.6-metre telescope, which hosts the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) program that is best known for hunting down exoplanets. Also under that dome is the Coudé Auxiliary Telescope, which is decommissioned.
If you follow the Milky Way’s band of stars to the left, you’ll spot the dome of the Swedish–ESO Submillimetre Telescope, which was decommissioned following decades of observing objects in radio waves. (Not visible is the other large telescope in operation at the site, which is the 3.58-metre New Technology Telescope.)
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ESO facility buildings and telescope enclosures just are visible in the foreground, according to the statement, and city lights shine through in the distance. “Although faint in absolute terms, [lights] can become noticeable over long exposures such as this one,” ESO wrote.
If you look just left of center, though, you’ll spot a more celestial source of light curving through the sky. Called the zodiacal light, this is a form of emission that happens when the sun scatters dust particles in the plane of our solar system, where the planets and most of our neighborhood moons orbit.