Hatfield astronomers tracing the universe from the Dark Ages

REMARKABLE images of space have been taken by a state-of-the-art telescope worked on by University of Hertfordshire astronomers.

The Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) was conceived and developed by a consortium of UK universities, including doctors Maria-Rosa Cioni, Matt Jarvis and Phil Lucas from the Hatfield uni.

The trio will be leading three of the six major programmes on the scope, the world’s largest, dedicated to mapping the southern sky in infrared light.

Dr Jarvis, principal investigator, said: “VISTA will allow us to explore the universe from the Dark Ages, where the first stars and black holes formed, all the way through to the present day.

“We will be able to answer some of the most fundamental questions in galaxy formation and evolution, the role of supermassive black holes in this process and how galaxies trace the underlying dark matter structure of the universe.”

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Among other things, VISTA’s surveys will help our understanding of the nature and distribution and origin of known types of stars and galaxies, map the 3D structure of our galaxy, and help determine the relation between the 3D structure of the universe and the mysterious dark energy and dark matter.

VISTA was conceived and developed by a consortium of eighteen universities in the UK led by Queen Mary University of London.

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The telescope design and construction were project managed by the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UKATC).

VISTA was formally handed over to The European Organisation for Astronomical Research (ESO) in the Southern Hemisphere at a ceremony at ESO’s headquarters in Garching, Germany, attended by representatives of Queen Mary, University of London and STFC and will now be operated by ESO.

The minister of state for Science and Innovation Lord Drayson, said: “This outstanding example of UK kit is revealing our universe’s deepest secrets. I eagerly await more images from VISTA, which builds on our reputation as a world-leading centre for astronomy.”

The pictures shown above and in the gallery are credited to ESO/J. Emerson/VISTA. Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit.

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