ESO Survey Telescopes

Mapping the sky in the finest detail

Two new and powerful telescopes — the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) and the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) — are operational at ESO’s Paranal observatory in northern Chile. They are arguably the most powerful dedicated imaging survey telescopes in the world and are hugely increasing the scientific discovery potential of the Paranal Observatory.

A Tour at Paranal Observatory

Virtual Tour at ESO Very Large Telescope

Click on the image to take a Virtual Tour in and nearby the VLT.

LIVE image of the VST (updated every hour during daytime)

Visit Paranal Observatory

  • Journalists, science writers and producers, please see Media Visits
  • Tourist, students and lay people, please see the Weekend Visits page


Science with the Survey Telescopes

Many of the most interesting astronomical objects — from tiny, but potentially dangerous, near-Earth asteroids to the most remote quasars — are rare. Finding them is like looking for a needle in a haystack. The largest telescopes, such as ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) and the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, can only study a minute part of the sky at any one time, but VISTA and the VST are designed to photograph large areas quickly and deeply. The two telescopes are currently performing a total of nine carefully designed surveys and will create vast archives of both images and catalogues of objects that will be harvested by astronomers for decades to come. The Survey Telescopes will have a vital role in preparing the way for future facilities such as the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

The scientific goals of the surveys include many of the most exciting problems in astrophysics today, ranging from the nature of dark energy to the threat of near-Earth asteroids. Large teams of astronomers throughout Europe will conduct the surveys. Some of the surveys will cover most of the southern sky while others will focus on smaller areas.

Interesting objects discovered by the Survey Telescopes will form targets for detailed study both by the neighbouring VLT and by other telescopes on Earth and in space. Both Survey Telescopes are housed in domes close to the VLT and share the same exceptional observing conditions as well as the same highly efficient operational model.

Both VISTA and the VST will produce huge quantities of data — a single picture taken by VISTA has 67 megapixels and images from OmegaCam on the VST will have 268 megapixels. The two Survey Telescopes will produce far more data every night than all the other instruments on the VLT combined. Together the VST and VISTA will produce more than 100 Terabytes of data per year.

More about the ESO Survey Telescopes