Press Release

Big Red Eye is Ready

VISTA Camera Shipped to Paranal

17 January 2007

The world's biggest infrared camera for Europe's newest telescope left the UK today for Chile. The 67 million pixel camera will equip VISTA - a UK provided survey telescope being constructed in Chile for ESO. VISTA will map the infrared sky faster than any previous telescope, studying areas of the Universe that are hard to see in the visible due to either their cool temperature, surrounding dust or high redshift.

The 2.9-tonne VISTA camera has been designed and built by a consortium including the CCLRC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) in Edinburgh and the University of Durham.

"The camera operates under vacuum at a temperature of -200 degrees Celsius, so in many ways it has been like designing an instrument for use in space, but with the additional constraint of having to survive an earthquake environment," said Kim Ward, the Camera Manager from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, who oversaw the technical challenges. "With a total of 67 million pixels, VISTA has a much larger number of infrared sensitive detectors than previous infrared instruments."

VISTA is due to start scientific operations in the last quarter of 2007. "VISTA will be able to take images of sky areas each about 3 times as large as the full Moon," said Jim Emerson of Queen Mary, University of London, UK and VISTA's Principal Investigator. "This means it can survey quickly. The camera is crucial to carrying out VISTA's surveys which will provide statistical samples of objects and at the same time locate and characterise rare and variable objects, and perhaps most tantalisingly make discoveries of the as-yet unknown."

The 4-m VISTA will survey large areas of the southern sky at near-infrared wavelengths to study objects that are not seen easily in optical light either because they are too cool, or are surrounded by dust (which infrared light penetrates much better than optical), or whose optical light is redshifted into the near-infrared by the expansion of the Universe. Amongst other things VISTA's surveys will help our understanding of the nature, distribution, and origin of known types of stars and galaxies, map the 3-D structure of our galaxy, and help determine the relation between the 3-D structure of the universe and the mysterious 'dark energy' and 'dark matter'. Samples of objects will be followed up in detail with further observations by other telescopes, in particular, ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT).

"VISTA is an eagerly awaited addition to ESO's suite of telescopes," commented Catherine Cesarsky, ESO's Director General. "Wide area surveys in the infrared such as those which VISTA will undertake can drive discoveries across the field of astronomy."

"The unique Paranal site, the large 4-m telescope aperture, the wide field, and the high efficiency of the detectors will make VISTA the world's outstanding ground based near-IR survey instrument," said Richard Wade from PPARC and President of the ESO Council.

VISTA (the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy) is a 55 million euro project, funded by grants from the UK DTI's Joint Infrastructure Fund and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) to Queen Mary, University of London, the lead institute of the VISTA Consortium. VISTA forms part of the UK's subscription to ESO and will be an ESO telescope. VISTA is project managed by PPARC's UK Astronomy Technology Centre. The VISTA web page is at


Kim Ward
Edinburgh, UK
Tel: +44 (0) 1235 445237

Jim Emerson
Queen Mary University of London
London, UK
Tel: +44 (0) 1794 127 1548

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About the Release

Release No.:eso0704
Legacy ID:PR 04/07
Name:VIRCAM, Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy
Type:Unspecified : Technology : Observatory : Instrument
Facility:Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy


The VISTA camera
The VISTA camera
VISTA at Paranal
VISTA at Paranal
The VLT and VISTA *
The VLT and VISTA *
VISTA telescope
VISTA telescope