The Very Large Telescope is in fact four telescopes, which are located on Cerro Paranal, a mountain in Chile. Each telescope is equipped with an 8.2m mirror; working together they are equivalent to a 16.4m instrument.
The telescope made its first observations 1998 and since then its achievements include the first image of an extrasolar planet and the identification of the then furthest known astronomical object (a gamma ray burst).
Image: A laser from VLT's Yepun telescope creates the Laser Guide Star (LGS), which is used to correct the atmosphere's blurring effect. (credit: G. Hüdepohl/www.atacamaphoto.com; used with permission)
The Very Large Telescope (VLT) is a telescope operated by the European Southern Observatory on Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. The VLT consists of four individual telescopes, each with a primary mirror 8.2 m across, which are generally used separately but can be used together to achieve very high angular resolution. The four separate optical telescopes are known as Antu, Kueyen, Melipal and Yepun, which are all words for astronomical objects in the Mapuche language. The telescopes form an array which is complemented by four movable Auxiliary Telescopes (ATs) of 1.8 m aperture.
The VLT operates at visible and infrared wavelengths. Each individual telescope can detect objects roughly four billion times fainter than can be detected with the naked eye, and when all the telescopes are combined, the facility can achieve an angular resolution of about 0.001 arc-second. This is equivalent to roughly 100 metres (330 feet) resolution at the distance of the Moon. Unfortunately this means the VLT cannot be used to directly image the Apollo Moon landing sites as the largest objects left behind during each mission would only have been about 4 meters (12 feet) across. However when the future E-VLT comes online this may become possible.
The VLT is the most productive ground-based facility for astronomy, with only the Hubble Space Telescope generating more scientific papers among facilities operating at visible wavelengths. Among the pioneering observations carried out using the VLT are the first direct image of an exoplanet, the tracking of individual stars moving around the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way, and observations of the afterglow of the furthest known gamma-ray burst.