Milky Way over the VLTI control room … Light pollution at Paranal … Turn the lights out! … Milky Way rising behind UT4 … A bright meteor over Paranal … Strong airglow at dusk … Milky Way and the Zodiacal light … Milky Way over Paranal … Milky Way panorama … Airglow over the ATs … Galaxies to the south … Airglow … Galactic Centre
The centre of the Milky Way is rising next to UT4 in this photo, with Alpha and Beta Centauri and the Southern Cross high over the VLTI control room, inside which an insanely complicated system of mirrors and lenses can combine the light from four telescopes to study objects in incredible detail.
Paranal is very dark, but there are some sources of light pollution we can't do anything about. 80 miles north is the city of Antofagasta, which showed up more clearly than usual in this photo because of low cloud reflecting the street lights. And a similar distance up is the upper atmosphere, which glows faintly at night. Further afield, dust particles in the solar system reflect sunlight and cause the faint white band that stretches up from the horizon. The handle of the Plough is visible just above Antofagasta - a far northern constellation that we can just about see from down here.
The centre of the galaxy passes right over Paranal. We take great care to avoid stray light that could affect our observations, but this photo contains damning evidence - someone left the lights on in the VLTI control room.
In the late evening twilight just before the start of proper darkness, the centre of the galaxy rises behind UT4.
During this 20s exposure, a bright meteor flashed by, burning up in the sky over Paranal.
The Milky Way crosses the sky over two of the Auxiliary Telescopes. The sky looked pretty dark to the naked eye but in the long exposure it turned out to be full of strong red airglow. Around sunset, there are usually lots of satellites visible crossing the sky, and a few can be seen in this photo.
This is ESO's reprocessing of the image, which removed almost all the airglow, though I quite like the contrast.
The galaxy and dust in the solar system both visible over Paranal.
The beautiful southern Milky Way, shining brightly over the four telescopes of the VLT, and the VST in the distance.
The centre of the Milky Way is right overhead during the winter months here.
Strong red airglow over the Auxiliary Telescopes. The Southern Cross is setting at the right.
The Milky Way is at the right, and the Milky Way's two satellite galaxies, the Magellanic Clouds, are in the middle of this photograph. There was a lot of airglow to the south west, and just to the right of the Large Magellanic Cloud you can see the distant glow from the town of Taltal.
It's very dark at Paranal but there's still background light that we can't do anything about: the atmosphere itself glows at night. It can be surprisingly bright. Often it's green, when oxygen atoms are glowing. It can be red, too, when nitrogen is responsible. And it can be orange, when sodium atoms are being excited. Tonight, it was extremely orange, looking a lot like streetlights on clouds, except there were no clouds, and there are definitely no streetlights near here. It got really strong while I was taking a time lapse and you can see huge waves in the upper atmosphere rippling.
The finest sight of the southern skies. Us poor natives of the northern hemisphere are seriously deprived, restricted to seeing some crappy outer spiral arm of the galaxy while the lucky folk of the south get to look towards the centre.