Impressive First Images From VISTA Infrared Telescope

VISTA's first image shows the Flame Nebula (NGC 2024), a spectacular star-forming cloud of gas and dust in the constellation Orion. In visible light, the flame is hidden behind thick clouds of dust, but infrared wavelengths reveal the cluster of hot young stars within. ESO

A powerful new telescope called VISTA — the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy — just started work at the European Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory in the Chilean desert.

In its first five years, the telescope will be used for six major sky surveys, including one of the entire southern sky. Other studies will examine smaller regions in greater detail.

The telescope can detect faint sources and cover wide areas of sky quickly. Each image captures a section of sky about 10 times the area of the full moon.

When its sky surveys are complete, data from VISTA and NASA’s new space-based Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) will provide astronomers a new map of the universe’s darkest corners.

VISTA’s infrared sensors can see through interstellar dust, revealing new images of the southern sky. Here’s a sampling of its first pictures.