Press Release

VISTA Goes Deep into the Blue Lagoon

By SpaceRef Editor
January 5, 2011
Filed under , ,

A new image of a star-forming region known as the Lagoon Nebula that lies about 4,000 to 5,000 light-years away has been captured by the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO’s) UK-designed and built VISTA telescope. The image demonstrates once again, the capability of the world’s largest survey telescope of producing infrared images that are unparalleled in the detail they reveal about the history and development of our galaxy. Astronomers are using VISTA (Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile for a huge survey called VISTA Variables in the Via Lactea (VVV) to scour the Milky Way’s central regions for variable objects and map its structure in greater detail than ever before. The image was taken as part of that survey.

Astronomers have been able to capture fine details of the Lagoon Nebula in the constellation of Sagittarius which are not visible without an infrared telescope because dust in the region associated with the star formation obscures them from view. Because the VISTA telescope operates in the infrared spectrum, however, its longer wavelengths can pass through the dust relatively unscathed, revealing what lies behind it.

VISTA involves a consortium of institutions led by Queen Mary, University of London and was project-managed by STFC’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UKATC). The camera for the telescope was part-built at STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire.

Professor Ian Robson, Head of STFC’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh, said: “The Lagoon Nebula has always been one of the ‘picture-book’ images of astronomy, but seen in the optical rather than the infrared light of VISTA, and these new images are breaking new grounds and further demonstrating how the hard work of this project is paying off in spades.”

Professor Richard Holdaway, Director, RAL Space at STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory said; “We are breaking new ground all of the time with the VISTA telescope. Region by region we are building up a solid picture of how our galaxy formed”.

Further details and the latest images from VISTA can be found in ESO’s press release:

Photos of VISTA can be found here:

More information about the VISTA Variables in the Via Lactea (VVV) survey can be found on ESO’s VVV survey main page:

Bekky Stredwick
Press Officer
STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
+44 (0)1235 445777/ 07825 861436

Richard Hook
ESO, Survey Telescopes PIO
Garching, Germany
+49 89 3200 6655

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VISTA Consortium

Queen Mary, University of London is the lead institute of the VISTA consortium. VISTA was project managed by STFC’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre. The camera for the telescope was part-built at STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. The VISTA consortium consists of Queen Mary University of London, Queen’s University of Belfast, University of Birmingham, University of Cambridge, Cardiff University, University of Central Lancashire, Durham University, The University of Edinburgh, University of Hertfordshire, Keele University, Leicester University, Liverpool John Moores University, University of Nottingham, University of Oxford, University of St Andrews, University of Southampton, University of Sussex, University College London.


ESO, the European Southern Observatory, is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organization in Europe and the world’s most productive astronomical observatory. It is supported by 14 countries: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. ESO carries out an ambitious program focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organizing cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and VISTA, the world’s largest survey telescope. ESO is the European partner of a revolutionary astronomical telescope ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. ESO is currently planning a 42-meter European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

Science and Technology Facilities Council

The Science and Technology Facilities Council ( ensures the UK retains its leading place on the world stage by delivering world-class science; accessing and hosting international facilities; developing innovative technologies; and increasing the socio-economic impact of its research through effective knowledge exchange partnerships. The Council has a broad science portfolio including Astronomy, Particle Physics, Particle Astrophysics, Nuclear Physics, Space Science, Synchrotron Radiation, Neutron Sources and High Power Lasers. In addition the Council manages and operates three internationally renowned laboratories: The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Oxfordshire; The Daresbury Laboratory, Cheshire; The UK Astronomy Technology Centre, Edinburgh. The Council gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), the Institute Laue Langevin (ILL), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) and the European Southern Observatory (ESO). It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Chile, and in the UK LOFAR and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility, which includes the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory. The Council works closely with the UK Space Agency on exploiting UK membership of the European Space Agency (ESA) and delivering the UK civil space program.

SpaceRef staff editor.