VISTA Produces Spectacular Panoramic View of the Distant Universe

The most detailed infrared image ever taken of a region of space large enough to be representative of the distant Universe has been released by a team led by the University of Edinburgh. The image from the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) VISTA telescope reveals more than 200,000 galaxies, including the most distant seen to date in the early Universe. These objects formed less than one billion years after the Big Bang. The new image comes from the first year of data taken as part of the five-year UltraVISTA survey. It was made by combining more than six thousand separate images -- equivalent to an exposure time of 55 hours.

The image forms part of a huge collection of fully processed images from all the VISTA surveys that is now being made available by ESO to astronomers worldwide. It comes as a result of the VISTA telescope being trained on the same patch of sky repeatedly to slowly accumulate the very dim light from the most distant galaxies. On this colour composite of the UltraVISTA image, the large white objects with haloes are foreground stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy. A host of other galaxies can be seen, from relatively nearby galaxies which appear large enough to discern their structures, to the most distant galaxies which appear as red dots in this image.

Professor Jim Emerson, of Queen Mary, University of London, Principal Investigator for the construction of VISTA, commented: "These superbly detailed images of such a large area of the distant Universe are an exciting first return for the ten years the team spent getting VISTA from an idea to a successful reality."

The UltraVISTA survey area coincides with the location of the largest optical image taken with the European Space Agency/NASA Hubble Space Telescope, called the COSMOS survey. The COSMOS field is an apparently almost empty patch of sky, but the combination of the existing Hubble optical imaging and the new VISTA near-infrared data has shown it to be a treasure trove for a wide range of astronomical studies. The final UltraVISTA image is expected to reveal objects five to ten times fainter still, enabling the study of galaxy evolution over essentially all of cosmic time.

Commenting on these revolutionary new images, Professor James Dunlop from the University of Edinburgh who led the team behind this work said: "Until recently our view back to the first epoch of galaxy formation has been limited to tiny, 'pencil-beam' images made with the Hubble Space Telescope. Now VISTA, with its panoramic imaging capability, is providing us with the first view of truly representative regions of the young Universe. This image is just a first taste of what the UltraVISTA survey will ultimately provide."

The image combines exposures taken through five different near-infrared filters using the new VISTA telescope which is located at the Paranal Observatory in Chile. Professor John Peacock, Head of University of Edinburgh's Institute for Astronomy said: "UK astronomers can be very proud of this achievement. Until the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, UltraVISTA gives us the best view we will have of the large-scale distribution of the earliest galaxies".

The design and construction of VISTA was also led from Edinburgh, at the STFC's UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC). UKATC sits alongside the University of Edinburgh's Institute for Astronomy at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh (ROE), providing a vibrant environment combining academic and technological excellence. The camera for the telescope was part-built at STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. Full details of the VISTA consortium are below.

Notes to editors

The European Southern Observatory's press release on UltraVISTA can be found here: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1213/

More details of the COSMOS survey can be found here: http://cosmos.astro.caltech.edu/

For more details of the role of the UK ATC in VISTA see: http://www.roe.ac.uk/ukatc/projects/vista/index.html

Images available

In this colour composite of the image: http://www.stfc.ac.uk/resources/image/jpg/ultraVISTA.jpg the large white objects with haloes are foreground stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy. A host of other galaxies can be seen, from relatively nearby galaxies which appear large enough to discern their structures, to the most distant galaxies which appear as red dots in this image. The credit for this image is: UltraVISTA/Terapix/CNRS/CASU

More of the latest images from VISTA can be found here on ESO's press release: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1213/

Contacts:

James S. Dunlop
Institute for Astronomy, University of Edinburgh, Royal Observatory
+44 131 668 8477
jsd@roe.ac.uk

Lucy Stone
STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
+44 (0)1235 445 627 desk
+44 (0)7920 870125 mobile

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