Spectacular image wows UK scientists
06 Oct 2010



The UK-designed and built ESO VISTA telescope has taken a spectacular infrared image revealing an extraordinary landscape of glowing tendrils of gas, dark clouds and young stars 2700 light-years away

​Infrared view of a stellar nursery in Monoceros from VISTA satellite

​Infrared VISTA view of a stellar nursery in Monoceros​​​

Credit: ESO

​The picture is of the constellation of Monoceros (the Unicorn), a star forming region which is almost completely obscured by interstellar dust when viewed in visible light, but which is spectacular in the infrared, as captured by VISTA (Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy). The image will help astronomers piece together more information about how the region was formed.

“When I first saw this image I just said ‘Wow!’ I was amazed to see all the dust streamers so clearly around the Monoceros R2 cluster, as well as the jets from highly embedded young stellar objects. There is such a great wealth of exciting detail revealed in these VISTA images,” says Jim Emerson, of Queen Mary, University of London and leader of the VISTA consortium.

VISTA is the world’s largest telescope dedicated to surveys, with a mirror over 4 metres in diameter. Its huge field of view (equivalent to about 80 light-years at this distance), together with the large mirror and sensitive camera makes VISTA ideal for obtaining deep, high quality images of large areas of the sky, such at the Monoceros region. In visible light a grouping of massive hot stars such as this creates a beautiful collection of reflection nebulae where the bluish starlight is scattered from parts of the dark, foggy louter layers of the molecular cloud. Most of the new-born massive stars, however, remain hidden because the thick interstellar dust strongly absorbs their ultraviolet and visible light. VISTA's ability to operate in the infrared means it can detect many of these young stars. In fact, through its systematic mapping of the southern sky, VISTA will gather some 300 gigabytes per night, providing a huge amount of information on those regions that will be studied in greater detail by the Very Large Telescope (VLT), the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) and, in the future, by the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).

Professor Richard Holdaway, Director, RAL Space at STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory said; “This is another sensational image that demonstrates the enormous and unique capabilities of the VISTA telescope. I’m sure we can look forward to many more images of this kind, which together with the aforementioned, will help build up a detailed picture of our Universe and how it was formed”.

Professor Ian Robson, Head of STFC's UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UKATC), which manages the VISTA project, said: "Yet another fantastic image from the VISTA telescope, which while truly spectacular is just the tip of the iceberg of the wealth of new science being discovered as VISTA continues is mission of surveying the infrared sky."

Images available

For more information on the images that accompany this press release please see the ESO website (link opens in a new window).


  • Lucy Stone
    Press Officer
    STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
    Tel: +44 (0)1235 445627
    Mob: +44 (0)7920 870 125

  • Richard Hook
    Survey Telescopes PIO
    Garching, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6655

VISTA consortium

VISTA is a £37 million project, funded by grants from the DTI's (now BIS) Joint Infrastructure Fund and the STFC to Queen Mary, University of London, 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

European Southern Observatory (ESO)

The European Southern Observatory (ESO), is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation 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
  • the United Kingdom

ESO carries out an ambitious programme 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 organising 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 (Atacama Large Millimetre Array), the largest astronomical project in existence. ESO is currently planning a 42-metre European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

For more information please contact: RAL Space Enquiries