Paranal Telescopes and Instruments
The Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Cerro Paranal is ESO's premier site for observations in the visible and infrared. All four unit telescopes of 8.2m diameter are individually in operation with the instruments listed below.
The VLT offers also the possibility of combining coherently the light from the four UTs to work as an interferometer, the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI), with its own suite of instruments, ultimately providing imagery at the milli arcsecond level as well as astrometry at 10 micro arcsecond precision. In addition to the 8.2m telescopes the VLTI will soon be complemented with four Auxiliary Telescopes (AT) of 1.8m diameter to improve its imaging capabilities and enable full nighttime use on a year-round basis
Two telescopes for imaging surveys are available on Paranal. The Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA, 4m) which started regular service observations in 2010, and the VLT Survey Telescope (VST, 2.6m) for the visible with the camera OmegaCAM, which is expected to start observations in 2011.
First Generation VLT Instruments
Eleven first generation instruments are in operation at the VLT. From October 1st 2009 also the first second generation instrument xshooter started operations succesfully. They are offered each semester through a Call for observing proposals and are operated by Paranal Science Operations. We give an overview of their global observing capabilities, together with a short description of the VLT's observational strategy. The current instrument distribution among the four VLT Unit Telescopes is shown in the map and table below, which also contain links to VLTI, VST & VISTA instruments.
(Instruments available in Paranal)
Currently, the instruments are or will be mounted on the telescopes at these foci:
The status of the second generation of VLT Instruments and future facilities is the following:
- XSHOOTER (wide-band [UV to near infrared] point source spectrometer) has been installed at UT2 Cassegrain and has been offered to the community since P84
- KMOS (a cryogenic infrared multi-object spectrometer) will start integration at Paranal early September 2012 with commissioning starting end of November 2012. KMOS will be located at the UT1 Nasmyth B focus.
- MUSE (a huge "3-dimensional" spectroscopic explorer) is in the Manufacture, Assembly, Integration and Test (MAIT) phase. Integration in Paranal is expected during the 2nd semester of 2013. MUSE will replace NACO at the Nasmyth B focus of UT4
- SPHERE (a high contrast exoplanet searcher) is in the Manufacture, Assembly, Integration and Test (MAIT) phase. Integration in Paranal is expected to start early 2013 with commissioning starting end of March 2013. SPHERE will replace ISAAC at the Nasmyth A focus of UT3.
- PRIMA The Phase-Referenced Imaging and Micro-arcsecond Astrometry facility is a system designed to enable simultaneous interferometric observations of two objects - each with size of at most 2 arcsec - that are separated by up to 1 arcmin, without requiring a large continuous field of view. It is in the integration phase in Paranal.
- AOF The Adaptive Optics Facility (AOF) aim is to upgrade a single 8m Unit telescope of the Paranal Observatory with an Adaptive Secondary Mirror. The goal is to make this telescope an Adaptive Telescope providing turbulence corrected images at all focii, without the addition of adaptive modules and supplementary optics in front of the instruments. The facility includes, amongst other sub-systems, a <a href=">Deformable Secondary Mirror , a ground layer adaptive optics module, GRAAL, for HAWK-I, an AO system, GALACSI, to increase the performance of MUSE and 4 laser guide stars. The full facility is expected to start regular operations in 2015.
- GRAVITY is a four way beam combination second generation instrument for the VLTI. Its main operation mode makes use of all four 8m Unit Telescopes to measure astrometric distances between objects located within the 2” field-of-view of the VLTI. It is in the Manufacture, Assembly, Integration and Test (MAIT) phase. Integration in Paranal is expected to start in 2014.
- MATISSE The Multi AperTure mid-Infrared SpectroScopic Experiment is an infrared spectro-interferometer combining the beams of up to 4 UTs/ATs of the VLTInterferometer. Its obsjective is image reconstruction. MATISSE is in the Manufacture, Assembly, Integration and Test (MAIT) phase. Integration in Paranal is expected to start in 2014.
- ESPRESSO The Echelle SPectrograph for Rocky Exoplanet and Stable Spectroscopic Observations is a super-stable Optical High Resolution Spectrograph for the combined coude' focus of the VLT. It can be operated by either one of the UTs or collecting the light from up to 4 UTs simultaneously. Its Final Design Review (FDR) is scheduled for April 2013.
Information on Paranal decommissioned instruments is available on a separate page.
VLTI Visitor Instrument
Apart from these "Facility Instruments" which are available to the whole community ESO offers the possibility to instrument teams to build instruments for their own use, highly specialised towards the well defined scientific goals of the team. See the dedicated page for this VLTI Visitor Instrument.
Imaging Survey Instruments at Paranal
Other Facilities of Use for Observers
Paranal operates an All Sky Monitor called MASCOT. Although no real-time images are available, images (taken every three minutes) can be retrieved from the Science Archive. The VLT Astronomical Site Monitor continuously measures the environmental parameters.