First light of powerful new Keck Observatory MOSFIRE instrument

Apr 07, 2012
An unprocessed image from the MOSFIRE instrument made on the "first light" night of April 4, 2012. The powerful Keck I telescope and sensitive new instrument were able to gather this infrared image of two interacting galaxies called The Antennae, despite fast-moving high clouds over Mauna Kea that night. Credit: W. M. Keck Observatory

(Phys.org) -- Engineers and astronomers are celebrating the much anticipated first light of the MOSFIRE instrument, now installed on the Keck I telescope at W. M. Keck Observatory. MOSFIRE (Multi-Object Spectrometer For Infra-Red Exploration) will vastly increase the data gathering power of what is already the world’s most productive ground-based observatory.

“This is a near-infrared multi-object spectrograph, similar to our popular LRIS and DEIMOS instruments, only at longer wavelengths,” explained Observing Support Manager Bob Goodrich. “The MOSFIRE project team members at Keck Observatory, Caltech, UCLA, and UC Santa Cruz are to be congratulated, as are the observatory operations staff who worked hard to get MOSFIRE integrated into the and infrastructure. A lot of people have put in long hours getting ready for this momentous First Light.”

The first images from MOSFIRE were made on the night of April 4, despite thick cirrus clouds over Mauna Kea. One subject was a pair of interacting galaxies known as The Antennae. Additional images and spectra were gathered on the night of April 5, as part of the continuing commissioning of the instrument.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

MOSFIRE gathers spectra, which contain chemical signatures in the light of everything from stars to galaxies, at near-infrared wavelengths (that is, 0.97-2.45 microns, or millionths of a meter). Infrared is light which is beyond red in a rainbow—just beyond what human eyes can detect. Observing in the infrared allows researchers to penetrate cosmic dust clouds and see objects that are otherwise invisible, like the stars circling the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. It also allows for the study of the most distant objects, the light of which has been stretched beyond the red end of the spectrum by the expansion of the universe.

plan to use MOSFIRE to study the time when most galaxies formed, as well as the so-called period of re-ionization, when the universe was just a half-billion to a billion years old. Other targets will be nearby stars, young stars and even brown dwarfs, which are stars not quite massive enough for normal nuclear fusion to ignite in their cores.

What sets MOSFIRE apart from other instruments is its vastly more light-sensitive camera and its ability to survey up to 46 objects at a time, then switch targets in just minutes. That’s an operation that takes comparable infrared instruments one to two days.

MOSFIRE can also scan the sky with a 6.1 arc minute field of view, which is about 20 percent of a full moon and almost a hundred times more sky than the Keck’s current near-infrared camera. To take spectra of multiple objects, the state-of-the-art consists of 46 pairs of sliding bars that open and close like curtains. Aligned in rows, each pair of bars blocks the sky, leaving small slits between the bars which allow slivers of light from multiple stars or galaxies to be recorded. Light from each slit then enters the spectrometer, which breaks down the objects’ light into their spectrum of wavelengths.

Because everything that’s even a little warm radiates infrared , all infrared instruments must be kept cold to minimize any trace of heat from the ground, the telescope, or the instrument itself from contaminating the infrared signals from space, MOSFIRE is kept at a cool 120 Kelvins (about -243 degrees Fahrenheit or -153 degrees Celsius). Because of this, MOSFIRE is the largest cryogenic instrument on either of the Keck telescopes.

“We look forward to the rest of MOSFIRE commissioning, and the start of science operations,” said Goodrich.

UCLA’s Ian McLean, Caltech’s Chuck Steidel and Caltech’s Keith Matthews, who have built other Keck instruments, played leading roles. The team includes Keck Observatory’s Instrument Program Manager Sean Adkins, the engineering and technical staff of Keck Observatory, the technical staff of the UCLA Infrared Lab, master optical designer Harland Epps of UC Santa Cruz and the staff of Caltech Optical Observatories. The spectrometer was made possible through funding provided by the National Science Foundation and astronomy benefactors Gordon and Betty Moore.

Explore further: How mighty Jupiter could have changed Earth's habitability

Provided by W. M. Keck Observatory

4.9 /5 (13 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Powerful new astronomy tool arrives on Mauna Kea

Feb 28, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- A 10,000-pound package was delivered on Feb. 16 to the W. M. Keck Observatory near the summit of Mauna Kea. Inside is a powerful new scientific instrument that will dramatically increase the ...

Keck telescope snaps images of asteroid's exit

Nov 10, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- One of the world’s largest optical/infrared telescopes has captured near-infrared light images of asteroid YU55 as it was departing its close flyby of Earth the night of Nov. 8, 2011. ...

Astronomers find a dark matter galaxy far, far away

Jan 18, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- A faint “satellite galaxy” 10 billion light years from Earth is the lowest-mass object ever detected at such a distance, says University of California, Davis, physics professor Chris ...

Lasers spectacular

Jun 10, 2011

The new laser on the Keck I telescope has inspired two avid Mauna Kea photographers to capture the light show in a series of stunning images and videos. We’ve collected some of their work here for your ...

Recommended for you

Exoplanets soon to gleam in the eye of NESSI

2 hours ago

(Phys.org) —The New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument (NESSI) will soon get its first "taste" of exoplanets, helping astronomers decipher their chemical composition. Exoplanets are planets ...

A sharp eye on Southern binary stars

22 hours ago

Unlike our sun, with its retinue of orbiting planets, many stars in the sky orbit around a second star. These binary stars, with orbital periods ranging from days to centuries, have long been the primary ...

Hubble image: A cross-section of the universe

23 hours ago

An image of a galaxy cluster taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope gives a remarkable cross-section of the Universe, showing objects at different distances and stages in cosmic history. They range ...

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

Apr 17, 2014

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

rwinners
not rated yet Apr 08, 2012
Q "The spectrometer was made possible through funding provided by the National Science Foundation and astronomy benefactors Gordon and Betty Moore."

That's interesting. No government money.
farmerpat42
not rated yet Apr 10, 2012
Q "The spectrometer was made possible through funding provided by the National Science Foundation and astronomy benefactors Gordon and Betty Moore."

That's interesting. No government money.


The NSF *is* the government...

http://en.wikiped...undation

More news stories

LADEE mission ends with planned lunar impact

(Phys.org) —Ground controllers at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., have confirmed that NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft impacted the surface ...

A full-spectrum Mars simulation in a box

There are many reasons why Mars excels at destroying expensive equipment. For one thing, its entire surface is made of partially-magnetized dust. For another, Mars possesses just enough atmosphere so that ...

Ceres and Vesta Converge in Virgo

Don't let them pass you by. Right now and continuing through July, the biggest and brightest asteroids will be running on nearly parallel tracks in the constellation Virgo and so close together they'll easily ...

Could 'Jedi Putter' be the force golfers need?

Putting is arguably the most important skill in golf; in fact, it's been described as a game within a game. Now a team of Rice engineering students has devised a training putter that offers golfers audio, ...