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

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

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
at the ESO/MPG 2.2-m telescope. In addition, the 2.6-m
VLT Survey Telescope
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, available at

[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.