Multiple eyes for the VLTJanuary 28, 2002
First system of deployable multi-integral field units ready
The ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the Paranal Observatory is being equipped with many state-of-the-art astronomical instruments that will allow observations in a large number of different modes and wavebands.
Soon to come is the Fibre Large Array Multi-Element Spectrograph (FLAMES), a project co-ordinated by ESO. It incorporates several complex components, now being constructed at various research institutions in Europe and Australia.
One of these, a true technological feat, is a unique system of 15 deployable fibre bundles, the so-called Integral Field Units (IFUs). They can be accurately positioned within a sky field-of-view measuring no less that 25 arcmin in diameter, i.e., almost as large as the full Moon. Each of the IFUs looks like an insect's eye and images a small sky area (3 x 2 arcsec^2) with a multiple microlens. From each IFU, 20 narrow light beams are sent via optical fibres to an advanced spectrograph. All 300 spectra are recorded simultaneously by a sensitive digital camera.
A major advantage of this technique is that, contrary usual spectroscopic observations in which spectral information is obtained along a (one-dimensional) line on the sky, it now allows (two-dimensional) area spectroscopy. This will permit extremely efficient spectral observations of many celestial objects, including faint galaxies, providing detailed information about their internal structure and motions. Such studies will have an important impact on our understanding, e.g., of the early evolution of galaxies, the main building blocks in the Universe.
The IFUs have been developed by a team of astronomers and engineers at the Observatoire de Paris-Meudon. All IFU components are now at the ESO Headquarters in Garching (Germany) where they are being checked and integrated into the instrument.
A french-version PR is available at: http://www.obspm.fr/actual/
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