Public Surveys Projects

Several public survey projects are carried out at La Silla Paranal Observatory at different telescopes employing different instruments. In general, there are:

4MOST Public Surveys:

VST Imaging Public Surveys (3 surveys)

VISTA Imaging Public Surveys :

Public Spectroscopic Surveys (4 surveys)

Here is the presentation of the VISTA and VST ESO public surveys in the ESO messenger by the ESO Survey Team (Messenger 127, 28).

The status report on the ESO Public survey is published here (Messenger 178, 10)

In order to ensure that the Public Survey observations are not duplicated please consult the Public Survey Protected Targets.

VST Surveys

KIDS The Kilo-Degree Survey -COMPLETED-
PI Konrad Kuijken ( Leiden)

This survey aims to image 1500 square degrees in 4 bands (to be complemented in the near-infrared with data from the VIKING survey). The survey aims to cover this large area to a depth 2.5 magnitudes deeper than the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), with considerably better image quality. The primary science driver for the design of this project has been weak gravitational lensing. The science goals of the KIDS project are numerous, including: studying dark matter halos and dark energy with weak lensing, investigating galaxy evolution, searching for galaxy clusters, and looking for high redshift quasars. The KIDS project fills an important niche in lensing surveys between smaller, slightly deeper surveys, such as the CFHT Legacy Survey, and larger, shallower surveys like the SDSS.

ESO programme ID: 177.A-3016, 177.A-3017, 177.A-3018
KIDS Survey homepage:

PI Tom Shanks ( Durham)

This survey is targeting 4500 square degrees of the Southern Sky in 5 filters to depths comparable to the SDSS. This survey will also be complemented with near-infrared data from the VHS VISTA survey. The primary science driver is to determine the dark energy equation of state by examining the 'baryon wiggles' in the matter power spectrum, via surveys of luminous red galaxies using both photometric and spectroscopic redshifts. But this survey will also provide the imaging base for many other future spectroscopic surveys, both at the VLT and also via wide-field fibre spectrographs such as the new AAOmega instrument at the Anglo-Australian Observatory. For example, the VST ATLAS will be valuable in the hunt for high redshift galaxies and quasars.

ESO programme ID: 177.A-3011
VST ALTLAS Survey homepage:

VPHAS+ - The VST Photometric H-α Survey of the Southern Galactic Plane -COMPLETED-
PI Janet Drew (Imperial)

This survey will combine H-α and broadband u'g'r'i' imaging over an area of 1800 square degrees capturing the whole of the Southern Galactic Plane within the latitude range |b| < 5 degrees. VPHAS+ will facilitate detailed extinction mapping of the Galactic Plane, and can be used to map the structure of the Galactic disk and its star formation history. The survey will yield a catalogue of around 500 million objects, which will include greatly enhanced samples of rare evolved massive stars, Be stars, Herbig and T Tau stars, post-AGB stars, compact nebulae, white dwarfs and interacting binaries. This survey is complementary to IPHAS, a survey of the Northern Galactic Plane nearing completion, but VPHAS+ will include more filters and will achieve better image quality.

ESO programme ID: 177.D-3023
VPHAS+ Survey homepage:



VST surveys
Acronym Short Title PI Area (deg2) Filters and Depth (mag (10σ, AB)) Total numbers of hrs executed (Nov 2019)  
 KIDS Kilo Degree Survey
K. Kuijken 1350 u'=24.8     g'=25.4     r'=25.2     i'=24.2 3421
ATLAS VST ATLAS T. Shanks 4700 u'=22.0     g'=22.2     r'=22.2     i'=21.3     z'=20.5 1585
VPHAS+ The VPHAS+ survey of the southern Galactic Plane J. Drew 1800 u'=21.8     g'=22.5     Hα=21.6     r'=22.5    i'=21.8 1200
Sky coverage of VST surveys. overlayed on a 2MASS image of the whole sky
Sky coverage of VST surveys overlaid on a 2MASS image of the whole sky.

VISTA Surveys

The first cycle of VISTA public surveys began operations in April 2010 (P85). The call for the second cycle of VISTA public surveys was opened in 2015, and seven projects have been selected, with start of operations in P99. The PIs and teams prepared their Survey Mangement Plans (SMPs). The SMPs are publicly available from the appropriate links listed below.

The first cycle of VISTA surveys are described in more detail in the next section.The Messenger article describing the ESO public surveys at VISTA - Lessons learned from Cycle 1 Surveys and the start of Cycle 2 is available here.

Users can track the progress of these surveys at this CASU webpage and the Public Survey Progress table.


Second Cycle of VISTA Surveys (7 programmes)

VINROUGE - VIsta Near-infraRed Observations Unveiling Gravitational wave Events
PI N. R. Tanvir (University of Leicester)

This ESO public survey will conduct near-infrared follow-up imaging of the error regions for gravitational wave (GW) detections. Speci fically this survey will target events for which the GW analysis suggests they are likely due to a merger of a compact binary including at least one neutron star. Such systems are also expected to give rise to r-process kilonovae/macronovae, with spectral energy distributions peaking in the near-IR in the days following the merger. Detection of an electromagnetic (EM) counterpart would trigger considerable further follow-up, providing the route to the redshift and host environment, and heralding a new era of GW+EM astrophysics. The public survey strategy will evolve with improving understanding of kilonova behaviour, and will also be tailored to the parameters of each event. The total time requested by this survey project is 420 hr, nominally for up to ten triggers, likely resulting in  300 sq-deg coverage. The baseline plan is to image in three fi lters in the fi rst visit (YJKs) and one fi lter (J) in a repeat epoch to help search for variability. Typically the limiting magnitude of the images is expected to reach J AB mag = 21.

ESO Programme ID: 198.D-2010
VINROUGE Survey Pages on :

The approved survey management plan of the VINROUGE survey project is available here

Completing the legacy of UltraVISTA
PIs Jim Dunlop ( Edinburgh), Marijn Franx ( Leiden), Johan Fynbo ( Copenhagen), Olivier LeFèvre ( Marseilles)

The propose of this survey project is to complete the legacy of UltraVISTA by delivering the deepest degree-scale near-IR imaging of the sky, within the unparalleled COSMOS survey field. This 3-year programme will bring the J, H, Ks imaging across the full 1.5-deg2 footprint of VIRCAM to the same depths as will be achieved within the `ultra-deep' strips of the current UltraVISTA programme at DR4; i.e. J = 26.0, H = 25.7, Ks = 25.3 (AB mag, 5- sigma, 1.8-arcsec apertures). This will be well matched to the depths of the optical imaging from the new Subaru HyperSuprimeCam deep survey, and to the depths of the Spitzer IRAC imaging from SPLASH. This 756 hr programme will deliver new results on the galaxy UV luminosity function out to z ~8 and the galaxy stellar mass function out to z ~6. It will also be a key resource for the study of dust-enshrouded star-forming galaxies, and for identifying spectroscopic targets for JWST. This project maximises the value of the VISTA time already invested in the COSMOS field, and will secure the long-term legacy of VISTA for studies of the distant Universe.

ESO programme ID: 198.A-2003
UltraVISTA Survey homepage:

The approved survey management plan of the Continuing UltraVISTA survey project is available here


VVVX - The VVV eXtended ESO Public Survey
PI Dante Minniti (Universidad Andres Bello)

For the past 6 years, the ESO Public Survey VISTA Variables in the Via Lactea (VVV) has been mapping the IR variability of the Milky Way bulge and southern mid-plane. This public survey project proposes an extension of the previous VVV survey to enhance its long lasting legacy. The proposed VVV eXtended Survey (VVVX) will cover the gaps left between the VVV and VHS areas and extend the VVV time-baseline enabling proper motion measurements of <0.3 mas yr-1 in the optically obscured regions where Gaia is limited by extinction. VVVX will take 2000 hr, and cover 1700 sq degrees in the Southern sky, from l <=130deg to l = +20deg (7 h<RA<19 h). VVVX will provide a deep JHKs catalogue of about 2x109 point sources, as well as a Ks-band catalogue of  ~107 variable sources. Within the existing VVV area we will produce a 5-D map of the surveyed region by combining positions, distances and proper motions of well-understood distance indicators such as red clump stars, RR Lyrae and Cepheid variables in order to unveil the inner structure of the Milky Way. The VVV+VVVX catalogues will complement those from the Gaia space mission with very red sources and will feed spectroscopic targets for the forthcoming ESO high-multiplex spectrographs MOONS and 4MOST.

ESO Programme ID: 198.B-2004
VVVX Survey homepage:

The approved survey management plan of the VVVX survey project is available here

VEILS - The VISTA Extragalactic Infrared Legacy Survey
PI M. Banerji ( Cambridge)

The VISTA Extragalactic Infrared Legacy Survey (VEILS), is a deep J and KS transient and wide- field survey with the primary goals of understanding the epoch of reionization, the build-up of massive galaxies and con straining the cosmological equation of state using Type 1a supernovae and AGN dust lags. VEILS will cover 9 sq-deg of the extragalactic sky over three fi elds: ES1 (RA = 00h 30m; Dec = -43d 00m), CDF-S (RA = 03h 36m; Dec = -28d 00m) and XMM-LSS (RA = 02h 22m; Dec = -06d 00m). The proposed per-epoch survey depths are J <23.5 and KS < 22.5 in all fields and a total of 33-50 epochs per field per fi lter are expected over the entire duration of the survey. VEILS will take a total of 1153 hours (128 nights) in <1.1" seeing conditions to complete the survey.

ESO Programme ID: 198.A-2005
VEILS Survey homepage  

The approved survey management plan of the VEILS survey project is available here

GCAV - VISTA Deep Extragalactic Observations Survey
PI Mario Nonino (INAF, Trieste)

Galaxy Clusters At Vircam (GCAV) is an infrared, Y, J, KS, 560 hrs survey for a sample of 20 clusters of galaxies, evenly distributed over the 0h-24h Right Ascension range, and which will mainly explore galaxy evolution over a large, and largely unexplored, diversity of cluster environments. By the time GCAV will begin, all the selected clusters will already have been observed by HST (ACS/WFC3-NIR) within the CLASH (Cluster Lensing And Supernovae Search with Hubble), HFF (Hubble Frontier Fields), and Relics programmes. Furthermore a wealth of ground based ancillary data, from optical imaging and spectroscopy to radio observation, is available for most of the proposed clusters. The total area coverage is  30 sq deg and the expected depths are  24.5, 24.0, 23.0 for Y, J and KS respectively (5 sigma, point sources).  The wide area coverage coupled with the expected depths will also allow legacy science, e.g. search of high redshift quasar and L,T dwarfs, infrared Galactic star counts and colour, search of lensed quiescent galaxies.

ESO Programme ID: 198.A-2008
GCAV Survey

The approved survey management plan of the GCAV survey project is available here

VISIONS - VISTA Star Formation Atlas

PI J. Alves (Univ. Vienna)

The VISTA Star Formation Atlas (VISIONS) is a sub-arcsec near-infrared atlas of all nearby (d < 500 pc) star formation complexes accessible from the southern hemisphere. This atlas will become the community's reference star formation database, covering the mass spectrum down to a few Jupiter masses and spatial resolutions reaching 100-250 AU. The survey will cover a total of 550 sq deg distributed over the six star forming complexes of Ophiuchus, Lupus, Corona Australis, Chamaeleon, Orion, and the Pipe Nebula, to be completed within three years after start of observations. VISIONS is separated into three phases. The first phase will conduct H-band imaging of the target regions distributed over six epochs with an e ffective exposure time of 60s and a limiting magnitude of H ~19 mag. The immediate objective is to derive positions and proper motions of the embedded and dispersed young stellar population inaccessible to Gaia, as well as provide complementary photometry to the fi rst generation VHS survey which fully covered all target regions in the J and KS bands. In a second phase, VISIONS will carry out a set of deep observations which will image the high-column density regions of the star-forming complexes. The deep imaging in J,H,KS band of 57  pointings totals 600s exposure time per pointing, reaching limiting magnitudes of J~21.5 mag, H ~20.5 mag, and KS ~19.5 mag. In a third phase, for statistical comparison with the galactic field population, VISIONS will observe a set of additional six control fi elds with the same limiting magnitudes and similar strategy as the deep observations. The total requested time for VISIONS amounts to 552h 37m 24s for 2223 tiles, in thin observing conditions.

ESO Programme ID: 198.C-2009

VISIONS Survey homepage:

The approved survey management plan of the VISIONS survey project is available here

SHARKS - Southern H-ATLAS Regions Ks-band Survey

PI H. Dannerbauer (IAC)

SHARKS is a wide and deep VISTA public survey over the SGP and GAMA Herschel-ATLAS fields in the KS band covering  300 deg2 to a 5 depth of KS ~ 22.7 AB mag in 1200 h. The SHARKS fields have been and will be covered by a number of future deep and/or wide far-IR and radio surveys. The goals of the survey are 1) to provide the best possible counterpart identi fication for  90% of the sources detected at 0 < z < 3 by H-ATLAS, ASKAP, SKA and LOFAR; 2) to produce a sample of a thousand strong lenses for cosmography studies; 3) to study the evolution of the most massive structures in the Universe. The depth of the deepest available observations over the proposed fields (VIKING survey, KS < 21.2 AB mag at 5-sigma) is not enough to accomplish any of these aims. The SHARKS fi elds will also overlap with future LSST (optical) and EUCLID (near-IR - but not KS) observations, representing a perfect complementary dataset with an enormous legacy.

ESO Programme ID: 198.A-2006

SHARKS Survey homepage:


The approved survey management plan of the SHARKS survey project is available here

Sky coverage of Cycle 2 Public Surveys with VISTA: the colour coded footprints of their targeted areas are shown in the figure below. Light blue- VVVX, Green-VISIONS, Yellow-SHARKS, Violet-GCAV, Light red-VEILS, Red-UltraVISTA. VINROUGE does not have pointings in this figure as they will be set by Gravitational Wave triggers as they occur.


Second cycle VISTA surveys (7 programmes)
Acronym Short Title PI Area (deg2) Filters

Total number

of hrs   

Kilonova counterparts to Gravitational wave sources N. Tanvir
0 (100)
Y J Ks 420
Cont. UltraVISTA Completing the legacy of UltraVISTA J. Dunlop 0.75 J H Ks 756
VVVX Extending VVV to higher Galactic latitudes
D. Minniti 1700 J H Ks 1900
VEILS VISTA Extragalactic Infrared Survey M. Banerji
J Ks 1180
GCAV Galaxy Clusters at VIRCAM M. Nonino
Y J Ks 560
VISIONS VISTA star formation atlas J. Alves 550
J H Ks 
Southern Herschel-Atlas Regions K-band survey
I. Oteo 300   Ks 1200

First Cycle of VISTA Surveys (6 programmes)

PIs Jim Dunlop ( Edinburgh), Marijn Franx ( Leiden), Johan Fynbo ( Copenhagen), Olivier LeFèvre ( Marseilles)

Ultra-VISTA aims to image one patch of the sky (the COSMOS field) over and over again to unprecedented depths. The survey will use the Y, J, H, and Ks broadband filters along with one narrow-band filter specifically designed to study Lyman-a emitters at redshift 8.8, of which ~30 are expected to be found with this survey. The science goals of Ultra-VISTA include studying the first galaxies, the stellar mass build-up during the peak epoch of star formation activity, and dust obscured star formation.

ESO programme ID: 179.A-2005
UltraVISTA Survey homepage:


VIKING - VISTA Kilo-Degree Infrared Galaxy Survey  -COMPLETED-

PI Will Sutherland ( Cambridge)

The VIKING survey provides an important complement to the optical KIDS project. VIKING will image the same 1500 square degrees of the sky in Z, Y, J, H, and Ks to a limiting magnitude 1.4 mag deeper than the UKIDSS Large Area Survey. The near-infrared data will be used in the determination of very accurate photometric redshifts, especially at z > 1, an important step in the weak lensing analysis and the observation of baryon acoustic oscillations. Other science drivers include the hunt for high redshift quasars, galaxy clusters, and the study of galaxy stellar masses.

The survey region may be modified slightly as the survey progresses but the nominal RA and Dec limits are shown below:
 SGP:        22h00 < RA < 03h30 ,     -36 < Dec < -26 deg.
 NGP:        10h00 < RA < 15h30,      -5 < Dec < +4 deg
 GAMA09:  08h36 < RA < 09h24,      -2 < Dec < +3 deg.

ESO Programme ID: 179.A-2004
VIKING Survey Pages on Astro WiSE:


VMC - VISTA Magellanic Clouds Survey -COMPLETED-
PI Maria-Rosa Cioni (AIP)

This survey will image 184 square degrees of the Magellanic System, i.e., the Large Magellanic Cloud, the Small Magellanic Cloud, the Bridge, and the Magellanic Stream in the Y, J, and Ks wavebands reaching a sensitivity limit of Vega magnitudes Y=21.9, J=21.4 and Ks=20.3 with S/N=10. Multi-epoch observations will constrain the mean magnitude of short-period variables. The survey will be used to study resolved stellar populations, the star formation history of the system as well as to trace its three-dimensional structure.

ESO Programme ID: 179.B-2003
VMC Survey homepage:


VVV - VISTA Variables in the Via Lactea -COMPLETED-

PI Dante Minniti (Catolica)

The VVV survey will target the galactic bulge and a piece of the adjacent plane in Z, Y, J, H, and Ks. The total area of this survey is 520 square degrees and contains 355 open and 33 globular clusters. The VVV is multi-epoch in nature in order to detect a large number of variable objects and will provide > 100 carefully spaced observations for each tile. A catalog with ~109 point sources including ~106 variable objects is expected. These will be used to create a 3-dimensional map of the Bulge from well-understood distance indicators such as RR Lyrae stars. Other science drivers include the ages of stellar populations, globular cluster evolution, as well as the stellar initial mass function.

ESO Programme ID: 179.B-2002
VVV Survey homepage:


VHS - VISTA Hemisphere Survey
PI Richard McMahon (Cambridge)

The VHS will image the entire ~20 000 square degrees of the Southern Sky, with the exception of the areas already covered by the VIKING and VVV surveys, in J and Ks. The resulting data will be about 4 magnitudes deeper than 2MASS and DENIS. The 5000 square degrees covered by the Dark Energy Survey (DES), another imaging survey scheduled to begin in 2010 at the CTIO 4 metre Blanco telescope, will also be observed in H-band. The area around both of the Galactic Caps will be observed in Y- and H- band as well to be combined with the data from the VST ATLAS survey. The main science drivers of the VHS include: examining low mass and nearby stars, studying the merger history of the Galaxy, measuring the properties of Dark Energy through the examination of large-scale structure to a redshift of ~1, and searches for high redshift quasars.

ESO Programme ID: 179.A-2010
VHS Survey homepage:


VIDEO - VISTA Deep Extragalactic Observations Survey -COMPLETED-
PI Matt Jarvis (Hertfordshire)

VIDEO is a 12 square degree Z, Y, J, H, Ks survey to study galaxy evolution as a function of epoch and environment to redshift of ~4 using active galactic nuclei, galaxy cluster evolution, and very massive galaxies. The survey comprises three fields: the Chandra Deep Field South, 4.5 square degrees of the XMM-Newton Large-Scale Structure Survey, a field of the European Large-Area ISO Survey. The width and area of VIDEO are intermediate between the wide but relatively shallow VIKING survey and the small, but very deep, Ultra-VISTA.

ESO Programme ID: 179.A-2006
VIDEO Survey homepage:


Sky coverage of VISTA surveys, overlaid on a 2MASS image of the whole sky.
First cycle VISTA surveys
Acronym Short Title
PI   Area (deg2) Filters and Depth Measure
(mag (10σ, AB)
Depth (mag) Total number of hrs executed (Nov. 2019)
Ultra-VISTA An Ultra Deep Survey with VISTA
J. Dunlop 0.73 (ultra-deep) 5σ, AB Y=26.7     J=26.6     H=26.1     Ks=25.6     NB=26.0 1832
VIKING The VISTA Kilo-degree Infrared Galaxy Survey
A. Edge, W.Sutherland 1500 5σ, AB Z=23.1     Y=22.3     J=22.1     H=21.5     Ks=21.2 2424
VMC The VISTA near-infrared survey of the Magellanic System
M.R. Cioni 184 10σ, Vega Y=21.9     J=21.4     Ks=20.3 2047
VVV Vista Variables in the Via Lactea
D. Minniti
520 5σ, Vega Z=21.9     Y=21.2     J=20.2     H=18.2     Ks=18.1 2205 
VHS The VISTA Hemisphere Survey
R. McMahon 20 000 5σ, AB Y=21.2     J=21.2     H=20.6     Ks=20.0 4623
VIDEO VISTA Deep Extragalactic Observations Survey
M. Jarvis 12 5σ, AB Z=25.7     Y=24.6     J=24.5     H=24.0     Ks=23.5 2073


Public Spectroscopic Surveys

Public Spectroscopic Surveys, Gaia ESO and PESSTO, started in 2012. Since P94, they are followed by two additional  Public Spectroscopic Survey with the VIMOS spectrograph, the VANDELS and LEGA-C. Their scientific goals are briefly summarized below.

The Gaia-ESO Survey -COMPLETED-
PIs: Gerry Gilmore (IoA Cambridge, UK), Sofia Randich (INAF, Obs. Arcetri, Italy)

Gaia-ESO is a public spectroscopic survey, targeting more than 105 stars with FLAMES multi-fibre spectrograph, systematically covering all major components of the Milky Way, from halo to star forming regions, providing the first homogeneous overview of the distributions of kinematics and elemental abundances. This alone will revolutionise knowledge of Galactic and stellar evolution: when combined with Gaia astrometry the survey will quantify the formation history and evolution of young, mature and ancient Galactic populations. Survey will target with well defined samples the bulge, thick and thin discs and halo components, and open star clusters of all ages and masses.

ESO Programme IDs: 188.B-3002, 193.B-0936, 197.B-1074
Gaia-ESO Survey homepage:

The approved survey management plan of the Gaia-ESO survey project can be accessed here


PESSTO: Public ESO Spectroscopic Survey for Transient Objects -COMPLETED-
PI: S. J. Smartt (Queen's University Belfast)

This Public Spectroscopic survey aims to deliver detailed, high-quality, time series optical and near infrared spectroscopy of 150 optical transients covering thefull range of parameter space that the current synoptic surveys now deliver: luminosity, host metallicity, explosion mechanisms. This will build a comprehensive understanding of the exotic, explosive Universe. One of the major survey products will be ESO Transient Database (ETABASE), that will serve these extensive datasets of transients to the public.

ESO Programme IDs: 188.D-3003, 191.D-0935
PESSTO Survey homepage:

The approved survey management plan of the PESSTO survey project is available here


VANDELS: A deep VIMOS survey of the CANDELS UDS and CDFS fields -COMPLETED-
PIs: Ross McLure (Edinburgh), Laura Pentericci (INAF-Rome)

VANDELS is a deep VLT spectroscopic survey of high-redshift galaxies with the VIMOS spectrograph. It is designed to exploit the multi-wavelength imaging and near-IR grism spectroscopy available in the CANDELS UDS and CDFS fields. The goal is to obtain spectra with high enough Signal-to-noise to derive metallicities and velocity offsets from absorption and emission lines, allowing a detailed investigation of the physiscs of galaxies in the early Universe. Within an area of 0.2 deg2, the survey strategy will deliver more than 2500 high signa-to-noise (15 - 20) spectra of star forming galaxies in the redshift range 2.5 < z< 5.5, passive galaxies with HAB < 22.5 at 1.5 < z < 2.5 and star forming galaxies at 3.0 < z < 7.0 with HAB < 27.

ESO Programme IDs: 194.A-2003

The approved survey management plan of the VANDELS survey is available here


LEGA-C: The Large Early Galaxy Astrophysics Census survey -COMPLETED-
PI: Arjen van der Wel (MPIA)

The goal of the LEGA-C survey is to obtain deep continuum spectroscopy of 3100  z = 0.6 - 1.0 galaxies in the rest frame wavelength range around 4000 A, and to measure the stellar velocity dispersion, stellar ages and abundances. The LEGA-C survey covers 1.3 deg2 ( i.e. 79% of the UltraVISTA footprint in the COSMOS field) and approximately 2500 spetra are expected to have a continuum signal-to-noise ratio of 10 A-1. The LEGA-C dataset will provide the crucial link between the present day galaxies and the population that existed during the first few billion years after the BigBang.

ESO Programme IDs: 194.A-2005

The approved survey management plan of the LEGA-C survey is available here