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ESO – ‘then and now’


By Tushna Commissariat

This year the European Southern Observatory (ESO) is celebrating its 50th birthday. In honour, ESO plans to release a monthly “then and now” comparison image that shows how much things have changed over the past half of a century at ESO’s two main observatory sites (La Silla and Paranal), at ESO offices in Santiago de Chile and at its headquarters in Garching, Germany.

February’s photos of choice (images above courtesy of ESO/J Dommaget) depict the La Silla Observatory in the late 1960s and the present day. Only one telescope is visible in the historical image – the ESO 1 m Schmidt telescope, which saw first light in 1971. The present-day image has two new telescopes visible – the MPG/ESO 2.2 m telescope (left) and the New Technology Telescope (NTT) on the peak to the right. According to ESO, the MPG/ESO 2.2 m telescope has been in operation since 1984 and its construction is apparently the reason why the modern-day photograph could not be taken from exactly the same spot as the one from the 1960s. It also points out that back in the day, astronomers would sleep in the huts running along the right-hand side of the road. Luckily, researchers now have the luxury of using a more comfortable hotel on the edge of the site.

It is also interesting to note the cars in both images. ESO informs me that the car in the historical image is a Volkswagen 1600 Variant, while now all ESO vehicles on site at La Silla – such as the Suzuki 4WD in the new image – are white, to improve visibility at night.

Keep an eye out for more “then and now” images from ESO in the months to come.

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