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University of Sussex set to discover a new VISTA of the Universe

* 2 July 2002 *

University of Sussex set to discover a new VISTA of the Universe

The University of Sussex will be among the first research institutions to access data from the world's most powerful astronomical survey telescope, whose development has just taken an important step forward.

The Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) project has selected a Russian company to create an extremely accurate surface on the telescope's mirror, using computer-controlled surface-polishing techniques - a process that will take 18 months.

When it is completed in 2006, the 4m-wide VISTA telescope will be the world's largest facility for ground-based astronomical survey work. It will be equipped with the world's largest infrared camera and will enable astronomers to survey the heavens in the infrared to an unprecedented depth, opening up an entire new vista on the Universe.

The telescope is being built at a cost of more than £25m and will become part of the European Southern Observatory's Cerro Paranal Observatory at an altitude of 2,635m, in the Atacama Desert in Chile.

VISTA is financed by the UK's Joint Infrastructure Fund with an additional contribution from the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) through a consortium of 18 UK universities including the University of Sussex.

The University's Dr Robert Smith, who is a member of the consortium board, said: "The VISTA telescope will be able to map most of the Southern sky to unprecedented depth. The combination of the size of the mirror and the amount of sky that it can view makes it completely unique, and on that basis it beats all existing or planned telescopes. I anticipate Sussex astronomers being involved in a variety of research collaborations based on its results."

Dr Jon Loveday sits on the consortium's science committee with his colleague Dr Seb Oliver, both from the University of Sussex. Dr Loveday said: "Our membership of the consortium will enable us to access the data from the telescope as soon as it is available and make the best use of it. Sussex will be among the first places to have access to the data it produces."

* Notes for editors *

For further information, please contact Dr Robert Smith on 01273 678974 or Dr Jon Loveday on 01273 877719.

See also the VISTA website.

Press Office contacts: Alison Field or Benedict Brook, University of Sussex, Tel. 01273 678888, Fax 01273 877456, email or

VISTA is supported by a grant from the UK Joint Infrastructure Fund through the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council to Queen Mary University of London on behalf of the 18 university members of the VISTA consortium of: Queen Mary University of London, Queen's University of Belfast, University of Birmingham, University of Cambridge, Cardiff University, University of Central Lancashire, University of Durham, 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.

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