Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy

VISTA ― the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy ― is part of ESO’s Paranal Observatory. VISTA works at near-infrared wavelengths and is the world’s largest survey telescope. Its large mirror, wide field of view and very sensitive detectors will reveal a completely new view of the southern sky.

The telescope is housed on the peak adjacent to the one hosting the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) and shares the same exceptional observing conditions.

VISTA has a main mirror that is 4.1 m across. In photographic terms it can be thought of as a 67 megapixel digital camera with a 13 000 mm f/3.25 mirror lens.

At the heart of the telescope is a huge three-tonne camera with 16 state-of-the-art infrared-sensitive detectors.

Science with VISTA

VISTA’s observing time will be totally devoted to mapping the sky systematically and six huge public surveys will take up the majority of the telescope’s first five years of operations. Some will study small patches of sky for long periods to detect extremely faint objects and others will survey the entire southern sky. The observations will create vast new data collections that will support research in many astronomical projects ranging from studies of small bodies in our own Solar System out to cosmological investigations of the nature of dark matter and dark energy. Within our galaxy, VISTA is expected to find many new brown dwarf stars and be able to test ideas about the nature of dark matter. Using VISTA data astronomers will be able to create a three-dimensional map of about 5% of the entire observable Universe. Further out, VISTA will be a powerful tool for discovering remote quasars and studying the evolution of galaxies and clusters of galaxies. It will help to probe the nature of dark energy by finding very distant galaxy clusters.

VISTA was conceived and developed by a consortium of 18 universities in the United Kingdom, led by Queen Mary, University of London and became an in-kind contribution to ESO as part of the UK's accession agreement. Project management for the telescope design and construction was undertaken by the Science and Technology Facilities Council‘s UK Astronomy Technology Centre (STFC, UK ATC).

The telescope was provisionally accepted by ESO on 10 December 2009 and is now operated by ESO.

Science goals

Devoted to surveys. Variable stars, deep surveys, brown dwarfs, remote Solar System bodies (TNO, KBO).

More about VISTA


Name: Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy
Site: Cerro Paranal
Altitude: 2518 m
Enclosure: Compact optimised cylindrical enclosure
Type: Near-infrared survey telescope
Optical design: Modified Ritchey-Chrétien Reflector with corrector lenses in camera
Diameter. Primary M1: 4.10 m
Material. Primary M1: ZeroDur
Diameter. Secondary M2: 1.24 m
Material. Secondary M2: Astro-Sitall
Mount: Alt-Azimuth fork mount
First Light date: 11 December 2009
Active Optics: Yes