Brussels, 03 Jan 2003
The European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) recently captured an unprecedented image of the planet Uranus.
The image was obtained on 19 November 2002 by the ISAAC multi-mode instrument of the VLT, which is considered to be the world's largest and most advanced optical telescope. The observing conditions were favourable, allowing an exposure of five minutes.
Uranus is the seventh planet from sun and is located at a distance of about 3,000 million km from the Earth, or 20 times the distance between the Sun and the Earth. As the near-infrared image displays, seven of the moons surrounding Uranus are visible: Titania, Ubriel, Portia, Miranda, Puck and Ariel. Two of these moons were identified in 1986 during the Voyager 2 programme.
At its inception 1962, the European Southern Observatory aimed to 'establish and operate an astronomical observatory in the southern hemisphere, equipped with powerful instruments, with the aim of furthering and organising collaboration in astronomy'. The image taken by the VLT is a credit to the ESO's mission as it offers a clear and unrivalled picture of the rings and moons in the Uranus atmosphere: The tilted rotation axis of Uranus sets it apart from the rest of the solar system and the visibility of the rings encircling this planet depend largely on this unusual inclination.
While William Herschel discovered Uranus in1781, it was not until 1977 that astronomer teams at the Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO) and the Perth Observatory (Australia) could identify the rings surrounding this gas planet.
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