VLT Unit Telescopes

Having all four of the Unit Telescopes (UTs) working as one telescope observing the same object was a major step in the development of the VLT. While mostly used for individual observations, the UTs were always designed to be able to operate together as part of the VLT Interferometer (VLTI).

All the UTs are pointed in the same direction, at the same object, although this isn’t obvious because of the wide-angle lens used to take the photo. The light collected by each of the telescopes was then combined using an instrument called PIONIER. When combined, the UTs can potentially provide an image sharpness that equals that of a telescope with a diameter of up to 130 metres.

Two of the four 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescopes, which are also part of the VLTI, can be seen in the picture together with the UTs. While the larger telescopes are fixed, these smaller instruments, in round enclosures, can be relocated to 30 different stations. With the ATs as part of the VLTI, astronomers can capture details up to 25 times finer than with a single UT.

Gerhard Hüdepohl has lived in Chile since 1997. Aside from taking stunning photos in the Atacama Desert, he works as an electronics engineer at the VLT.

When light from all four 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Cerro Paranal on 17 March 2011 was successfully combined for the first time (ann11021), ESO Photo Ambassador Gerhard Hüdepohl was there to capture the moment.