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.

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 (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: