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ERIS – the Enhanced Resolution Imager and Spectrograph

ERIS is a next-generation instrument being built for the European Southern Observatory (ESO)’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). The VLT is one of the world’s largest and most advanced telescopes, based at the Paranal Observatory in Northern Chile. First light at the telescope is expected to be in 2020.

ERIS will:

  • Make very high precision measurements of stars in the middle of our Galaxy
  • Look at planets around other stars (exoplanets)
  • Make detailed maps of distant galaxies

The ERIS instrument consists of 3 parts:

  • An adaptive optics bench
  • A spectrograph called SPIFFIER
  • An infra-red camera called NIX

A major component of ERIS, called NIX, is being built at STFC’s UK Technology Astronomy Centre (UK ATC), in Edinburgh. NIX, a state-of-the-art cryogenic camera system, will image in the infra-red.

ERIS-NIX is about the size of an average piece of airline hold luggage (about 0.8m x 0.4m x 0.6m). Most cryogenic camera systems are built in a similar way – the mechanisms sit in a vacuum-sealed vessel. NIX is particularly challenging because it offers many observing modes, which means a large number of mechanisms have to fit inside this small space. All the mechanisms have had to be tailor-made – each designed and configured, almost in miniature.

Two of these complex mechanisms have been designed by partners at ETH Zürich (a science, technology, engineering and mathematics university in the city of Zürich, Switzerland) while some of the extremely innovative optics for viewing exoplanets have been designed by NOVA in Leiden (the Netherlands Research School for Astronomy). 

UK involvement

UK Astronomy Technology Centre

The Institute for Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh

University of Exeter


For further information


Meet Lee – Lead mechanical technician for ERIS-NIX

BBC 4 The Sky at Night – episode exploring on exoplanets, featuring STFC’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre and The Institute for Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh

Last updated: 04 September 2019


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