ESO/J. Emerson/VISTA and Digitized Sky Survey 2.

The Flame Nebula inside Orion's Belt. Clearly visible is the famous dark cloud of the Horsehead Nebula.ESO/J. Emerson/VISTA and Digitized Sky Survey 2.

December 11, 2009 — A brand new telescope called the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) has started observing the cosmos with astonishing results. Located at the ESO's Paranal Observatory, Chile, VISTA has become the world's largest telescope dedicated to mapping the southern hemisphere's sky in visible and infrared wavelengths.

The heart of the Flame Nebula, inside a star forming region. Normally, in optical wavelengths we wouldn't be able to see the stars as they would be obscured by dust. VISTA allows astronomers to see through the dust by detecting infrared emissions.ESO/J. Emerson/VISTA.

The 3-ton camera inside VISTA houses 16 special detectors with a combined photographic power of 67 million pixels (for reference, high-quality cameras in cellphones can take 3 million pixel images). This enables very wide angle images to be captured, while maintaining unparalleled definition when zooming into features of special interest such as this star-forming region.

Pushing the telescope's resolving power to the limit, this VISTA photograph contains approximately one million stars living in the dusty heart of our galaxy.ESO/VISTA.

"Observing at wavelengths longer than those visible with the human eye allows VISTA to study objects that are otherwise impossible to see in visible light because they are either too cool, obscured by dust clouds or because they are so far away that their light has been stretched beyond the visible range by the expansion of the Universe." -- ESO Press Release.

A Galactic Family PortraitESO/J. Emerson/VISTA.

VISTA's scope doesn't stop at observing stars and nebulae in the Milky Way. Looking into intergalactic space, many types of galaxies — containing billions of stars -- are resolved. One example is this cluster of galaxies in the constellation of Fornax where the beautiful barreled spiral of NGC 1365 can be seen (lower right).

The BeastESO/Y. Beletsky

A portrait of VISTA, a system developed by a consortium of 18 universities in the United Kingdom led by Queen Mary, University of London. This is the biggest survey telescope of its kind, revolutionizing ESO's capability of observing the southern skies, combining outstanding photographic capabilities with a huge light-collecting mirror.