Paranal is a 2600 meter-high mountain in Chile, and the location of the very large Very Large Telescope telescope*, an 8-meter monster that is one of the largest in the world. It creates amazing pictures of the heavens, as you might expect.
But you don’t always need a telescope to see jaw-dropping beauty. The folks at the European Southern Observatory just released some really nice shots taken outside the dome. Here’s one of the setting Sun:
The blue flash is the even more rare cousin of the unusual green flash. Basically, the light from the setting Sun is bent by the Earth’s air. But the Earth is curved, so the closer an object is to the horizon, the more air it must pass through. Also, different colors of light are bent differently by air; the shorter wavelengths (violet, blue, green) are bent more then longer (yellow, orange, red), and these effects add up to generate a transient but very pretty flash of color. The circumstances needed for a flash are particular, so they don’t happen terribly often.
The ESO released other images, including a green flash and spectacular shots of the gegenschein and zodiacal light: sunlight reflected back to us from dust particles in space. These are phenomenally difficult to see or photograph, so the pictures are particularly noteworthy and very, very pretty.
Someday I’d like to get to a site so dark I could see that for my own self. Wow.
Pictures like this are so cool: they remind us that there are things out there you’ve probably never even heard of, yet are incredibly beautiful and just waiting to be seen. All you have to do is want to know about them.
*No, that’s not a typo, it’s a lame joke about the lame name of that incredible ‘scope.