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ESOcast 42 Special: Looking Up

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This is the ESOcast! Cutting-edge science and life behind the scenes of ESO, the European Southern Observatory, exploring the ultimate frontier with our host Dr J, a.k.a. Dr Joe Liske. Hello and welcome to this special episode of the ESOcast. Leading up to ESO’s 50th anniversary in October 2012 we will showcase eight special features portraying ESO’s first 50 years of exploring the southern sky. Looking up 167,000 years ago, a star exploded in a small galaxy orbiting the Milky Way. At the time of the distant explosion, Homo sapiens just started to roam the African savannah. But no one could have noticed the cosmic fireworks, as the blast of light had only just embarked on its long journey towards Earth. By the time light from the supernova had completed 98% of its journey, Greek philosophers had just started to think about the nature of the cosmos. Just before the light reached Earth, Galileo Galilei trained his first primitive telescopes on the heavens. And on 24 February 1987, when photons from the explosion finally rained down on our planet, astronomers were ready to observe the supernova in great detail. Supernova 1987A flared up in the southern sky – unobservable from Europe or the United States. But by this time, ESO had built its first big telescopes in Chile, providing astronomers with a front-row seat to this cosmic spectacle. The telescope is of course the central tool that allows us to unravel the secrets of the Universe. Telescopes collect far more light than the unaided human eye, so they reveal fainter stars and let us peer deeper into space. Like magnifying glasses, they also show finer detail. And, when equipped with sensitive cameras and spectrographs, they provide us with a wealth of information about planets, stars and galaxies. ESO’s first telescopes on La Silla were a mixed bunch. They ranged from small national instruments to large astrographs and wide-field cameras. The 2.2-metre telescope – now almost 30 years old – is still producing some of the most dramatic views of the cosmos. At the highest point of Cerro La Silla lies the biggest achievement of ESO’s early years - the 3.6-metre telescope. Aged 35, it now leads a second life as a planet hunter. Also, Swedish astronomers built a shiny dish fifteen metres across to study microwaves from cool cosmic clouds. Together, these telescopes have helped to unveil the Universe in which we live. Earth is just one of eight planets in the Solar System. From tiny Mercury to giant Jupiter, these rocky spheres and gaseous balls are the leftovers from the formation of the Sun. The Sun, in turn, is a middle-of-the-road star in the Milky Way galaxy. One pinprick of light amidst hundreds of billions of similar stars — as well as bloated red giants, imploded white dwarfs, and rapidly spinning neutron stars. The spiral arms of the Milky Way are sprinkled with glowing nebulae, spawning bright clusters of newborn stars, while old globular clusters slowly swarm about the galaxy. And the Milky Way is just one of countless galaxies in a vast Universe, which has been expanding ever since the Big Bang, almost fourteen billion years ago. Over the past fifty years, ESO has helped to uncover our place in the Universe. And by looking up, we have also discovered our own origins. We are part of the big cosmic story. Without stars, we wouldn’t be here. The Universe started out with hydrogen and helium, the two lightest elements. But stars are nuclear ovens, turning light elements into heavier ones. And supernovae like 1987A seed the Universe with the products of this stellar alchemy. When the Solar System formed, some 4.6 billion years ago, it contained trace amounts of these heavier elements. Metals and silicates, but also carbon and oxygen. The carbon in our muscles, the iron in our blood, and the calcium in our bones, were all forged in an earlier generation of stars. You and I were literally made in heaven. But answers always lead to new questions. The more we learn, the deeper the mysteries become. What is the origin and ultimate fate of galaxies? Are there other solar systems out there, and could there be life on alien worlds? And what lurks in the dark heart of our Milky Way galaxy? Astronomers were clearly in need of more powerful telescopes. And ESO provided them with revolutionary new tools. This is Dr J, signing off from this special episode of the ESOcast. Join me again next time for another cosmic adventure. ESOcast is produced by ESO, the European Southern Observatory. ESO, the European Southern Observatory, is the pre-eminent intergovernmental science and technology organisation in astronomy, designing, constructing and operating the world’s most advanced ground-based telescopes. Transcription by ESO; translation by — Now that you've caught up with ESO, head 'out of this world' with Hubble. The Hubblecast highlights the latest discoveries of the world´s most recognized and prized space observatory, The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Video Details

Duration: 9 minutes and 28 seconds
Country: Germany
Language: English
Producer: Lars Lindberg Christensen
Director: Lars Lindberg Christensen
Views: 340
Posted by: esoastronomy on Apr 16, 2012

Leading up to ESO’s 50th anniversary in October 2012, we are releasing eight special ESOcasts, each a chapter from the movie Europe to the Stars — ESO’s First 50 Years of Exploring the Southern Sky. “Looking Up” is the second special episode of this series and ESOcast 42 overall. In it we look at how, over the past fifty years, ESO has helped to unravel some of the mysteries of the Universe in which we live. More information and credits:

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