Press Release

Britain Approaches ESO about Installation of Major New Telescope at Paranal

23 February 2000

The Executive Board of the UK Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope (VISTA) project announced today [1] that it is aiming at the installation of a new and powerful astronomical telescope at the ESO Paranal Observatory (Chile).

This 4-metre telescope is a specialised wide-angle facility equipped with powerful cameras and efficient detectors that will enable it to obtain deep images of large sky areas in short time. These survey observations will be made in several wavebands in the optical and, in particular, the near-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum.

VISTA will become the largest and most effective telescope of its type when it enters into operation in 2004. It is a project of a consortium of 18 UK universities [2]. Construction is expected to start in spring 2000. Funding of the project was announced in May 1999, as one of the first allocations from the "Joint Infrastructure Fund (JIF)", an initiative of the UK Government's Department of Trade and Industry, the Wellcome Trust, and the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

ESO's Director General, Dr. Catherine Cesarsky, is very pleased with this decision. She received a mandate from the ESO Council in December 1999 to negotiate a contract with the UK Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC), acting on behalf of the VISTA Executive Board, for the installation of VISTA at Paranal and now looks forward to settle the associated legal and operational details with her British counterparts at good pace.

"The installation of VISTA at Paranal will be of great benefit to all European astronomers", she says. "The placement of a survey telescope of this size next to ESO's VLT, the world's largest optical telescope, opens a plethora of exciting opportunities for joint research projects. Deep observations with VISTA, especially in infrared wavebands, will provide a most valuable, first census of large regions of space. This will most certainly lead to the discoveries of many new and interesting celestial objects which can then be studied in much more detail with the many specialised instruments at the powerful VLT Unit Telescopes".

ESO, the European Southern Observatory, has eight member states, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland. The United Kingdom participated actively in the early discussions in the 1950's about the establishment of ESO, but later elected not to join, mainly because of its access to other southern astronomical facilities in Australia and South Africa.

ESO already possesses a smaller survey instrument at the La Silla Observatory (Chile), with the optical Wide-Field Imager at the ESO/MPG 2.2-m telescope. In addition, the 2.6-metre VLT Survey Telescope (VST) with the 16kx16k OmegaCam camera will be installed at Paranal in 2002. It will operate in the visual region of the spectrum and, together with VISTA's infrared capability, ensure unequalled sky- and wavelength coverage from one observing site.


[1] The announcement was made in a PPARC Press Release and at the AlphaGalileo site.

[2] Universities in the VISTA Consortium are (in alphabetical order) Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff, Durham, Edinburgh, Hertfordshire, Keele, Central Lancashire, Leicester, Liverpool John Moores, Nottingham, Oxford, Queen Mary & Westfield College, Queen's University Belfast, St Andrews, Southampton, Sussex, University College London.

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About the Release

Release No.:eso0008
Legacy ID:PR 03/00
Type:Unspecified : Technology : Observatory : Telescope
Facility:Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy