Infrared-astronomy - Where stars are born
Making the invisible visible
© By Arjan Bik
Pushing the limitsLUCIFER and its twin are mounted at the focus points of the LBT's two giant 8.4-meter (27.6 foot) diameter telescope mirrors. Each instrument is cooled to a chilly –213 degrees Celsius in order to observe in the near-infrared (NIR) wavelength range. Near-infrared observations are essential for understanding the formation of stars and planets in our galaxy as well as revealing the secrets of the most distant and very young galaxies.
LUCIFER is a remarkable new multi-purpose instrument with great flexibility combining a large field of view with a high resolution. It provides three exchangeable cameras for imaging and spectroscopy in different resolutions according to observational requirements. Besides its outstanding imaging capability which presently makes use of 18 high-quality filters, LUCIFER allows the simultaneous spectroscopy of about two dozen objects in the infrared through laser-cut slit-masks. For highest flexibility the masks can be changed even at the cryogenic temperatures, through the innovative development of a unique robotic mask grabber which places the individual masks with absolute precision into the focal plane.
"Together with the large light gathering power of the LBT, astronomers are now able to collect the spectral fingerprints of the faintest and most distant objects in the universe." says Richard Green, the Director of the LBT. "After completion of the LBT adaptive secondary mirror system to correct for atmospheric perturbation, LUCIFER will show its full capability by delivering images with a quality that are otherwise only obtained from space-based observatories." "Already the very first LUCIFER observations of star forming regions are giving us a hunch for the enormous potential of the new instrument," said Thomas Henning, the chair of the German LBT-Partners.
source: LBT, Max-Planck-Institut