Under Southern Skies!
The NSO manager, Dr Stacey Habergham, is currently enjoying a different view of the sky whilst visiting La Silla Observatory in Chile. She is there using the New Technology Telescope (NTT) looking at galaxies which have had supernovae explode within them. Supernovae are fatal explosions which happen at the end of a stars lifetime - but don't worry, our Sun won't meet this violent end, as only stars which are at least 8 times more massive explode in this way. This observing run forms part of Stacey's on going research into what causes the different types of explosions we see. She is looking at the regions these supernovae have exploded and then taking a spectrum, which splits the light into all of the different wavelengths (as we see using a prism, splitting the light into different colours). By doing this we can see exactly what chemical elements are in the clouds which formed the stars which went supernova, and so also the elements in the stars themselves - the differences between the elements in the different regions will hopefully give us a hint at what is going on!
When astronomers go to observe they must first get used to the climate - La Silla is part of a desert in the Chilean Andes mountain range - it is therefore very dry and high up, so there is less oxygen. So Stacey had to get to the mountain a few days early to get used to the conditions. She also had to get used to staying up all night - doing the observations. Stacey is working in the telescope control room from 8pm until 6am taking her observations, and she will do this for the 8 nights of her run.
It's not all hard work though - the view is beautiful - and the wildlife often makes things interesting... So far Stacey has seen lots of birds, some lizards, a family of donkeys and a few wild alpacas!
Because Chile is in the southern hemisphere, Stacey is also seeing a different sky from what we usually see - and indeed the sky which the Liverpool Telescope sees out on La Palma. The most obvious difference is that some of our most well known constellations (such as Taurus and Orion) are upside down! If Stacey also looks carefully she will also see two faint blobs in the sky - these are actually our nearest neighbouring galaxies - the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds!