VISTA produces spectacular panoramic view of the distant Universe

News Release

Issued: Wednesday 21 March 2012

FOR RELEASE: 11:00 a.m. UK Time, 21st March, 2012

A team led by University of Edinburgh astrophysicist Professor James Dunlop has just released the most sensitive ever infrared image of a representative region of the distant Universe. 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 exposures equivalent to an exposure time of 55 hours. The image reveals more than 200,000 galaxies, including the most massive galaxies yet seen in the early Universe, objects which formed less than one billion years after the Big Bang.

A colour composite of the UltraVISTA image can be seen below



Click for larger version (5 MB): 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 UltraVISTA survey area co-incides with the location of the largest optical image taken with the Hubble Space Telescope, termed the COSMOS survey. The combination of the existing Hubble optical imaging and the new VISTA near-infrared data provides a treasure trove for a wide range of astronomical studies. The final UltraVISTA image is expected to reveal objects 5-10 times fainter still, enabling the study of galaxy evolution over essentially all of cosmic time.

The image combines exposures taken through five different near-infrared filters using the European Southern Observatory's new VISTA telescope, located at the Paranal Observatory in Chile. The design and construction of VISTA was also led from Edinburgh, at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh (ROE). The synergy of academic and technological expertise makes the ROE one of the worlds leading astronomical institutions.

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 10 years the team spent getting VISTA from an idea to a successful reality."

Prof John Peacock, Head of the University of Edinburgh's Institute for Astronomy, commented:

"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."


For full details and downloadable versions of the UltraVISTA image see

Additional images are available at

For details of the University of Edinburgh's Institute for Astronomy see

For more details of the role of the UK ATC in VISTA see

For details of the COSMOS survey see


Prof James S. Dunlop
Institute for Astronomy
University of Edinburgh
Royal Observatory

Tel: +44 131 668 8477