Thursday, April 17, 2008

VISTA mirror reaches Paranal: fastest (for a while) sky survey telescope progress!

A 4.1-meter diameter primary mirror, a vital part of the world's newest and - at least for a while - fastest survey telescope, VISTA (the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy) has been delivered to its new mountaintop home at Cerro Paranal, Chile. The mirror will now be coupled with a small camera for initial testing prior to installing the main camera in June: Full scientific operations are due to start early next year. VISTA will survey large areas of the southern sky at near infrared wavelengths (2 to 4 times the wavelength of visible light) to study objects that are not seen easily in optical light. Samples of objects will be followed up in detail with further observations by other telescopes and instruments such as the nearby Very Large Telescope. The mirror had been almost ready for months but was then stuck in Moscow where it was polished.

In other news interesting pictures have been published recently: many views of Phobos from Mars Express not seen widely, video clips from STEREO with CMEs and a comet - and a possible head-on bolide (other explanations haven't been ruled out, though). • Nova Cygni 2008 #2 has already fallen to about 9.5 mag. - but there are still three novae in the morning sky right now. • The 2nd new-cycle Active Region on the Sun got a number (990) after all but there is no spot there anymore in the visible. • This blogger will be in France the next 10 days and updates may be difficult: Thus here are already French and Russian calculations of possible Pi-Puppid activity on Apr. 22 and a preview of a nice Mercury evening show starting in late April on the N hemisphere.

Asteroid screw-up follow-up: Forced by a media storm of Apophis nonsense (see the sidebar of the article; links are in rough chronological order, starting at the top) NASA has actually issued an official statement clarifying the situation. Before - and even after - that announcement yesterday's Cosmos4U blog story was the main source (or a major one) for many online rebuttals, e.g. by the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, Sky & Telescope, Universe Today, Bad Astronomy, NASA Watch, AstroProf, BlueCollar Scientist or Tom's AstroBlog. While not a few "old media" websites simply deleted their original gullible stories without a trace ...

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