Agreement signed to build MAVIS, an Australian-led instrumentation project aiming to see further than the Hubble Space Telescope

Laser guide stars on one of ESO’s Very Large Telescopes. Credit: ESO

An agreement has been signed by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and representatives of an international consortium, led by Australian Astronomical Optics (AAO), to begin construction of the MAVIS instrument for use on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). The MAVIS Consortium is being led by the Australian National University (ANU) and includes Macquarie University, Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF) in Italy, and Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille (LAM) in France.

MAVIS (short for Multi-conjugate-adaptive-optics-Assisted Visible Imager and Spectrograph) is a $57M project to create an instrument capable of delivering space-quality images from the ground. To be built over a seven year period, MAVIS will be able to remove blurring from telescope images captured by ESO’s VLT in Chile, caused by turbulence in Earth’s atmosphere. Fitted to one of the VLT’s eight-metre Unit Telescopes, MAVIS will be able to produce images three times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope, a world-first for ground-based instrumentation.

MAVIS will remove this blurring and deliver images as sharp as if the telescope were in space, helping us to peer back into the early Universe by pushing the cosmic frontier of what is visible. The ability to deliver corrected optical images, over a wide field of view using one of the world’s largest telescopes, is what makes MAVIS a first-of-its kind instrument, and means we will be able to observe very faint, distant objects. We will be able to use the new technology to explore how the first stars formed 13 billion years ago, as well as how weather changes on planets and moons in our Solar System.

Professor François RigautMAVIS Principal Investigator, ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics

MAVIS project scientist, Associate Professor Richard McDermid (Macquarie University), said the project represents a significant milestone for Australia’s growing relationship with ESO. 

MAVIS demonstrates that Australia can not only participate in the scientific life of the observatory, but can also be a core player in helping ESO maintain its leadership by developing unique and competitive instruments using Australian expertise.

Associate Professor Richard McDermidMAVIS project scientist, Macquarie University

The Australian Government entered into a 10-year Strategic Partnership with ESO in 2017. AAL supports the Australian Government in this partnership by managing domestic arrangements and funding for the AAO – the national optical instrumentation capability. AAL funding for AAO’s MAVIS project is awarded via the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) program, an Australian Government initiative. AAL also oversees activities and stakeholder communications to ensure Australian astronomers get the best information and access to ESO.

​For more information on the MAVIS project from an AAL perspective, please contact Dr Mita Brierley, AAL’s Chief Business Officer: [email protected] or visit our AAO webpage.

Rendering of the MAVIS instrument. Credit: ESO.
A comparison of a simulated high-redshift galaxy (z=5, Pallottini et al. 2017) as seen by MAVIS and other facilities in the same I-band filter (from the MAVIS science case https://arxiv.org/abs/2009.09242).