The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array. Image captured March 27, 2016. Image ©2016 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

Pictures of Telescopes by Telescopes

The time has come for me to leave Planet as I head to graduate school to begin a PhD program in astrophysics. Seeing as I will be turning my telescopes around and pointing them to the sky, I thought this was only fitting as a final blog post. So here I give you photos of telescopes taking pictures of space taken by telescopes in space taking pictures of Earth.

Arecibo Observatory (left) and FAST (right). Images captured May 31, 2016 and June 5, 2016 respectively. Images ©2016 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

Arecibo and the Five-Hundred-Meter Spherical Aperture Telescope (FAST) are both large radio telescope dishes. Arecibo, located in Puerto Rico, is 305 meters across, and FAST in Pintang County, China, is 500 meters across (as its name suggests). FAST was completed in July, a month after this image was captured, making it the largest single aperture radio dish. These large dishes can capture longer wavelengths of light, allowing scientists to study various topics in fields such as radio astronomy and atmospheric science.

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile. Image captured March 27, 2016. Image ©2016 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) resides high in the mountains of Chile in the Atacama Desert. Like Arecibo and FAST, ALMA aims to capture longer wavelengths of light. However, instead of a single dish, ALMA does this by combining the 66 antennas of the array to work together as one. Using ALMA, scientists research topics in radio astronomy such as as planet formation and galaxy formation in the early universe. Perhaps you’ve seen this image of a planetary system around a young star taken by ALMA.


A disk of gas, dust, and ice particles surrounds the new star, and planets accrete material as they form, creating gaps in the disk seen as the dark bands above.

The Very Large Array. Image captured October 27, 2015. Image ©2016 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array in New Mexico is another radio astronomy observatory made up of an array of dishes. Each of the 27 25-meter dishes can move along tracks to tune the array to different wavelengths. You may remember these dishes from the movie Contact when Jodie Foster sits nearby listening for alien signals through her headphones. Can you spot the other telescope from Contact in this post?

LIGO Louisiana and Washington. Images captured September 1, 2016 and September 4, 2016 respectively. Images ©2016 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

The twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) observatories work together to look for elusive phenomena called gravitational waves. As predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity, gravitational waves are produced when massive objects like black holes, neutron stars, or white dwarfs merge. In February, the LIGO team announced their first detection of a gravitational wave observed on September 14, 2015 as a result of two merging black holes.

La Silla Observatory. Image captured April 4, 2016. Image ©2016 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

You may have seen La Silla Observatory in the news recently for the work done here on the discovery of the exoplanet Proxima Centauri b using the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) instrument. Proxima b orbits our closest neighbor, and it is inside the star’s habitable zone. The habitable zone is the region where the temperature is right for water to exist in liquid form on the planet’s surface (so long as the planet has sufficient atmosphere), which is thought to be one of the necessary factors to support life.

Las Campanas Observatory. Image captured July 18, 2016. Image ©2016 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

Las Campanas is home to the twin Magellan Telescopes, which measure up at 6.5 meters in diameter a piece, which is roughly the size of your average two-story house. And in case two house-sized telescopes aren’t big enough for ya, scientists are developing the Giant Magellan Telescope which will also call Las Campanas home. This telescope is slated to be a staggering 24.5 meters across, definitely living up to its ‘Giant’ epithet.

Like ALMA, Las Campanas and La Silla reside high in the Atacama Desert. The fair weather and high altitude make for ideal observing conditions.

Mauna Kea. Image captured January 7, 2015. Image ©2016 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.

Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii is home to a number of large telescopes you can see decorating the peak of the ridge above. In addition to telescopes, Mauna Kea is dotted by rust-colored cinder cones — remnants of the Hawaiian volcano’s last eruptive spasms more than 4,500 years ago.

Thanks to everyone who has followed along with my Medium pieces, gallery posts, and tweets during my tenure at Planet. I hope you’ll follow along as I transition from Planeteer to Exoplaneteer and keep an eye out for images from the ground at these sites one day.