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:

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).
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
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
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 (Apr 01, 2016)  
 KIDS Kilo Degree Survey
K. Kuijken 1500 u'=24.8     g'=25.4     r'=25.2     i'=24.2 1635
ATLAS VST ATLAS T. Shanks 4500 u'=22.0     g'=22.2     r'=22.2     i'=21.3     z'=20.5 1316
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'=21.8 688
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 7 projects are recommended for implementation, starting operations in P99. The PIs and teams are preparing and submitting their Survey Mangement Plans SMPs): we provide an overview summary table here. More detailed information on the new approved public surveys and their approved SMPs will be posted here.

The first cycle of VISTA surveys are described in more detail in the following. Users can track the progress of these surveys at this CASU webpage and the Public Survey Progress table.


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
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
PI Maria-Rosa Cioni (Edinburgh)

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
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
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:


First cycle VISTA surveys
Acronym Short Title
PI   Area (deg2) Filters and Depth Measure
(mag (10σ, AB)
Depth (mag) Total number of hrs executed (Apr. 01, 2016)
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 1598
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 2194
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 1529
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 2157 (completed)
VHS The VISTA Hemisphere Survey
R. McMahon 20 000 5σ, AB Y=21.2     J=21.2     H=20.6     Ks=20.0 3730
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 1483
Sky coverage of VISTA surveys, overlaid on a 2MASS image of the whole sky.

Second cycle VISTA surveys (7 programmes)
Acronym Short Title PI Area (deg2) Filters
Total number of hrs
GW Kilonova counterparts to Gravitational wave sources N. Tanvir
0 (100)
Y J Ks 420
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
72   Y J Ks 560
VISIONS VISTA star formation atlas J. Alves 550
J H Ks 
Southern Herschel-Atlas Regions K-band survey
J. Oteo 300   Ks 1200


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
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
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
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
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
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