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See the Milky Way sparkle with two telescopes in Chile's Atacama Desert in this stunning photo

Two telescopes from the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Observatory are visible in this image taken from Chile’s Atacama Desert, along with the Milky Way overhead.
Two telescopes from the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Observatory are visible in this image taken from Chile’s Atacama Desert, along with the Milky Way overhead. (Image credit: ESO/P. Horálek)

The Milky Way serves as a celestial pathway between two telescopes in a stunning image from Chile's Atacama Desert.

The telescopes are part of La Silla Observatory, a facility of the European Southern Observatory that has been in operation since the 1960s. "Here, ESO operates two of the most productive 4-metre class telescopes in the world," observatory officials wrote on their website (opens in new tab).

At right is the ESO 3.6-metre telescope, which hosts the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) program that is best known for hunting down exoplanets. Also under that dome is the Coudé Auxiliary Telescope, which is decommissioned.

If you follow the Milky Way's band of stars to the left, you'll spot the dome of the Swedish–ESO Submillimetre Telescope, which was decommissioned following decades of observing objects in radio waves. (Not visible is the other large telescope in operation at the site, which is the 3.58-metre New Technology Telescope.)

Related: 10 space discoveries by the European Southern Observatory

ESO facility buildings and telescope enclosures just are visible in the foreground, according to the statement, and city lights shine through in the distance. "Although faint in absolute terms, [lights] can become noticeable over long exposures such as this one," ESO wrote.

If you look just left of center, though, you'll spot a more celestial source of light curving through the sky. Called the zodiacal light, this is a form of emission that happens when the sun scatters dust particles in the plane of our solar system, where the planets and most of our neighborhood moons orbit.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.