Credit: G. Hüdepohl (atacamaphoto.com)/ESO
In all of its majesty, space needs a lot of order to keep track of the billions of celestial objects and the instruments finding them. Most are cataloged with plain but sensible names like KIC 8462852 (which actually did earn a nickname — Tabby’s star). Most, however, don’t have that glamorous moniker, and in some cases, scientists can get a bit literal. Here are some of the best names in astronomy:
Very Large Telescope
Credit: G. Gillet/ESO
The Very Large Telescope (VLT) recently captured the Pillars of Destruction, which are clouds of gas and dust that churn out stars and are light-years long. The observatory is ground-based and actually uses a complex system of mirrors underground to scan the skies for objects that can be four billion times fainter than what the naked eye can see.
Credit: ESO/M. Hayes
As one of the largest known single objects in the universe, the Lyman-alpha Blob, or LAB for short, is suspected to have star-rich galaxies powering its heart. It’s not the only blob to ever have been found but it is one of the most gigantic, stretching 300,000 light-years of space. This image was actually taken using the VLT.
The Oh-My-God Particle
On a brisk October evening in 1991, a cosmic ray was detected over Utah. It was so fast, it shocked astronomers, spawning its incredible name. The ultra-high-energy cosmic ray had 320 exa-electron volts (EeV) of energy, which was millions of times more energy than particles at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have ever attained, as Quanta magazine points out. The LHC is the most powerful particle accelerator that humans have ever constructed — and the largest machine in the world.
Large Binocular Telescope
Credit: Large Binocular Telescope Observatory
The name speaks for itself! The binocular design of this telescope has two identical mirrors stretching about 27 feet (about 8 meters) in diameter. It was the first Extremely Large Telescopes (ELTs), and it resides on Mount Graham in southeastern Arizona.
Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope
Located at the Winer Observatory, which is also in southeastern Arizona, the Kilodegree telescope (known as KELT-North) has been making observations for the last decade. Its system was designed to observe automatically every night without any humans needed to supervise it. KELT watches for transits of alien worlds in the Milky Way, or when planets outside of our solar system cross in front of a star.
The European Extremely Large Telescope
Credit: ESO/L. Calçada
As the largest optical and near-infrared telescope on Earth, the European Extremely Large Telescope, or E-ELT, will be the world’s biggest eye on the sky. This telescope, which will be located on the Cerro Amazones mountain in the Chilean desert, is set to be completed in 2024. The E-ELT will have a nearly 128-foot (39-meter) main mirror that it’ll use to track Earth-like planets and observe the effects of dark matter and energy.