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This date in history
On April 4, 1983, space shuttle Challenger launched on its maiden voyage. The ship carried a crew of four astronauts and NASA's first Tracking and Data Relay Satellite. (2min 08sec file)
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Thursday's Mars rover update
New pictures and science results from the Spirit and Opportunity rovers on Mars are presented at this briefing from Thursday, April 1. (52min 57sec file)
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X-43A launched
NASA's experimental X-43A hypersonic research aircraft is successfully launched by a Pegasus rocket off the coast of California on March 27. (2min 40sec file)
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Mars water discovery
Scientists present evidence from the Mars rover Opportunity during this Tuesday news conference that shows the landing site was once the bottom of a salty sea. (76min 48sec file)
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Armstrong speech
Neil Armstrong accepts the Rotary National Space Trophy for career contributions in aerospace. He says President Bush's plan to return to the Moon is economically feasible and has "substantial merit and promise." (12min 10sec)
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Celebrating 5 years of the Very Large Telescope
Posted: April 4, 2004

One of the world's most advanced telescope facilities, Very Large Telescope (VLT), situated in the Atacama Desert in Chile, celebrated its 5th birthday April 1st. During its short history the telescope has captured some breathtaking images furthering our knowledge about the far reaches of our Universe.

This unique image shows AB7, one of the highest excitation nebulae in the Magellanic Clouds (MCs), two satellite galaxies of our own Milky Way. Credit: ESO
UK astronomers were first granted access to use the four 8.2-metre and several 1.8-metre telescopes that make up the VLT when the UK joined the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in July 2002. Since then over 100 UK astronomers have been awarded time on the telescope to study a range of phenomena including brown dwarfs, massive stars and supernovae.

Each of the telescopes is a science machine of its own but they can also be combined together as well as with four Auxiliary Telescope. The VLT Interferometry has already shown to be a very efficient tool to measure the diameter of very small star or to perform the first interferometry of an extragalactic object.

Some of the highlights of the last 5 years work include close up views of features such as the Horsehead Nebula, the Crab Nebula and the "Sombrero" Galaxy, so called because of its Mexican hat like appearance. In addition to these stunning images the VLT has allowed astronomers to make many scientific breakthroughs. For example, confirming and measuring the mass of the Black Hole at the Centre of the Milky Way; finding the most-metal deficient star in the Galaxy, the farthest galaxy with a redshift of 10 and the connection between Supernovae and Gamma-ray bursts.

Professor Ian Halliday, Chief Executive of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council said:

"Congratulations to ESO and the Very Large Telescope for five years of exciting science and breathtaking images. The success of the VLT paves the way for UK astronomers to be in a strong position for increased involvement in the next phase of European astronomical developments through participation in ALMA and the Extremely Large Telescope projects."

Dr Malcolm Bremer, a UK astronomer from Bristol University, has used the VLT to study faint galaxies. He explains why the facility is so important.

"The VLT is vital for UK astronomers as, in combination with the Gemini Telescopes, they provide us with access to sufficient telescope time on state-of- the-art telescope facilities enabling the UK community to maintain its strong international standing in the subject."

Further studies which have used the VLT are being presented at the National Astronomy Meeting which is taking place this week at the Open University, Milton Keynes. See notes to editors for further details.

The top 20 images from the last 5 years can be found at: here