Monday, November 16, 2015

LINC-NIRVANA is introduced to its new home.

LINC-NIRVANA (LN) is a near infrared imaging instrument for the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) designed to offer both multi-conjugate adaptive optics (MCAO) and interferometric beam combination for ultra high spatial resolution. LN is a collaboration between the German and Italian partners. Its Principal Investigator is Tom Herbst (MPIA  - Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg).

LN successfully passed its Preliminary Acceptance tests in Heidelberg (Germany) in May 2015. For the following months, the team has been very busy preparing the instrument for shipping, filling up nine 20ft containers and a BIG crate for the LN bench. Before packing the bench itself, a traverse specially built to eventually install the instrument on the LBT was tested in front of the lab at MPIA. It was LN's first flight! (see image on the right)

Bench crate and containers left MPIA in early September and arrived on schedule on Oct 20 and 21 at the MGIO base camp.

Two of the LN containers (left) and the LN bench crate (right) at the MGIO base camp

The bench crate made its way to the mountain on Oct 22, followed by a first set of four containers. They were stored in the high bay, waiting for the arrival of the LN team, eight people from MPIA who started the long reassembly process on Nov 9. The MGIO staff was instrumental in the swift and safe delivery of these heavy loads to the observatory!

Of the many steps in this reassembly process, checking the fit of the LN bench on the telescope is obviously crucial to the whole project. The bench and its traverse were reunited and they both went for a second flight...

Taking off,hanging from the enclosure crane hook 43 meter above the high bay ground.
Reaching the Upper 3 Level where the bogies of the enclosure ride on their track.
Entering the enclosure access well. 
Entering the hatch. The clearance is very small (a fraction of an inch at the narrowest point) 
Nearly done through the narrows...
Finally free to fly in the enclosure!
LN landing pad on the telescope, in front of LBTI (green structure). The two LUCIs (shiny cylinders) are just behind LBTI. The LN bench with its red traverse can be seen through the telescope structure.   

The bench is now as high as possible above the telescope. The telescope has to be lowered to give enough vertical space for the bench to come to the rear of the enclosure before approaching its landing.
Getting closer... 
With the telescope back to zenith, the bench is lowered down toward its platform.
On the telescope!

A video of the whole operation, compiled by T. Herbst, is available on the LBTO video web page.

For a few days (Nov 16-20), the LN bench will stay on the telescope, moving around during night-time as regular observing takes place with the LBTO facility instruments. During day-time, the various platforms and covers, which will eventually be added permanently to support LN operations, will be fit-tested. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

In 2015B, LUCI1 out and LUCI2 in!

LUCI2 on its way to its right bent Cassegrain focal station 
After slightly more than 5 years of operation, LUCI1, the first in the pair of LBT's near infrared imager/multi-object spectrograph instruments, will leave the telescope at the end of the semester to be upgraded (new software, new detector, additional camera to enable diffraction limited imaging and spectroscopy).

Therefore, LUCI2 will be offered for science in seeing limited mode in 2015B. While LUCI2 has a different user interface and a different scripting tool from LUCI1, its detector has a 60% higher quantum efficiency: a huge improvement well worth the pain of learning for PIs and observers!

The AO commissioning of LUCI2 has also made good progress, though hampered by bad weather earlier in the semester and the priority given during the last commissioning run to seeing limited mode checkout, thus ensuring that LUCI2 will be ready for science for 15B. We should be able to commission LUCI2 in AO mode before the end of 2015B.

Stay tuned for more news on LUCI2 as we prepare documentation on observing and scripting over the summer. 

LUCI1 (right) and LUCI2 (left) on the telescope

A LUCI2 seeing-limited image of Westerhout 3, a star forming region 6200 light-years away - K band - FWHM: 0.54” 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

LINC-NIRVANA Lean-MCAO successfully passed its Preliminary Acceptance in Europe

LINC-NIRVANA (LN) is a near infrared imaging instrument for the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) designed to offer both multi-conjugate adaptive optics (MCAO) and interferometric beam combination for ultra high spatial resolution. LN is a collaboration between the German and Italian partners. Its Principal Investigator is Tom Herbst (MPIA  - Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg).

LINC-NIRVANA in the lab ready for inspection (credit: D. Ashby)

LINC-NIRVANA is a large instrument: roughly 5 x 4 x 4.5 meters and weighing 10 tonnes! There are a total of 40 pyramid wavefront sensors on the optical bench, more than 250 lenses and mirrors, 133 motors, and 966 cables...

LN bench hanging on the stand which simulates the telescope platform  (credit: D. Ashby)
On the picture above, the red structure on the left of the bench replaces (same mass and center of gravity) the ground layer wavefront sensor unit already on the telescope as the PATHFINDER experiment, which allowed to validate on-sky some of the capabilities of the MCAO unit.

The LN team will first deploy LINC-NIRVANA on the telescope in its "Lean-MCAO" configuration: each arm of the instrument will be independently capable to deliver an MCAO corrected 10 arc-second field view. Two MCAO systems on each arm will remove the blurring of the atmosphere coming from its ground layer for one, and its high layers for the other.

"Lean-MCAO" went this week through its Preliminary Acceptance in Europe (PAE) at MPIA. Two days of review and two more for splinter meetings in small groups made for fruitful exchanges between the LN team and seven LBTO staff. The instrument passed the review successfully, with no showstopper and only a few actions to be taken care of!

Happy LINC-NIRVANA team and LBTO reviewers (credit: T. Herbst)

It is now countdown time up to the arrival at the Observatory. Nine 20' containers and a HUGE box housing the bench and its supporting structure will travel by boat from the North Sea shores to California Coast (with a Panama Canal passage on the way). LN will then go on the road and ultimately reach the base camp in November of this year. After a full integration in the mountain lab, the installation of LN on the telescope is currently scheduled for the summer of 2016. The Early Science program in the "Lean-MCAO" configuration should start in 2017, once the commissioning  of the instrument is completed.

Twelve busy years went by since the Preliminary Design Review of the instrument. The success of this PAE is a tribute to those who contributed with much energy and creativity to the project in Germany and Italy.      
Congratulations are in order to all involved!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

LBT takes a close look at a lava lake on Jupiter's moon Io

With the first detailed observations through imaging interferometry of a lava lake on a moon of Jupiter, the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory places itself as the forerunner of the next generation of Extremely Large Telescopes. 

Io, the innermost of the four moons of Jupiter discovered by Galileo in January 1610, is only slightly bigger than our own Moon but is the most geologically active body in our solar system. Hundreds of volcanic areas dot its surface, which is mostly covered with sulfur and sulfur dioxide. 

The largest of these volcanic features, named Loki after the Norse god often associated with fire and chaos, is a volcanic depression called patera in which the denser lava crust solidifying on top of a lava lake episodically sinks in the lake, yielding a rise in the thermal emission which has been regularly observed from Earth. Loki, only 200km in diameter and at least 600 million km from Earth, was, up to recently, too small to be looked at in detail from any ground based optical/infrared telescope.

Io seen by LBT (left) on 2013 December 24 (left) compared to a USGS map (right) based on images from NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 missions (acquired in 1979) as well as the Galileo orbiter (1995-2003).

With its two 8.4 m mirrors set on the same mount 6 m apart, the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT), by combining the light through interferometry, provide images at the same level of detail a 22.8 m telescope would reach. Thanks to the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI), an international team of researchers was able to look at Loki Patera, revealing details as never before seen from Earth; their study is published today in the Astronomical Journal (link here).

The LBT image of Loki Patera (orange) laid over a Voyager image of the volcanic depression.The emission (in orange color) appears spread out in the north-south direction due to the telescope point-spread function; it is mainly localized to the southern corners of the lake. Credit: LBTO-NASA

Read the whole story here

Monday, April 20, 2015

First paper from the LEECH survey...

Astronomers Probe Inner Region of Young Star and its Planets

Taking advantage of the unprecedented sensitivity of the Large Binocular Telescope in southeastern Arizona, an international team of astronomers has obtained the first results from the LEECH exoplanets survey. The findings reveal new insights into the architecture of HR8799, a "scaled-up" version of our solar system 130 light-years from Earth.

The planetary system of HR 8799
The observations mark the first results of a new exoplanet survey called LEECH (LBT Exozodi Exoplanet Common Hunt), and are published today in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics (

If you want to know more, follow this link!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Monster Black Hole Discovered at Cosmic Dawn

Using data from the 2.4 meter Lijiang Telescope (LJT) in Yunnan China, the 6.5-meter Multiple Mirror Telescope (MMT), and the 8.4m Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona, USA, the 6.5m Magellan Telescope in Las Campanas Observatory, Chile, and the 8.2m Gemini North Telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA, an international team led by Prof. Xue-Bing Wu at Peking University discovered a new quasar, with its central black hole mass of 12 billion solar masses and the luminosity of 420 trillion solar luminosity, at a distance of 12.8 billion light years from the earth. This is the brightest quasar ever discovered in the early universe, powered by the most massive black hole yet known at that time. 

The discovery of this quasar, named SDSS J0100+2802, marks an important step in understanding how quasars, the most powerful objects in the universe, have evolved from the earliest epoch, only nine hundred million years after the Big Bang, close to the end of an important cosmic event that astronomers referred to as the “epoch of reionization”: the cosmic dawn when light from the earliest generations of galaxies and quasars were thought to transformed the Universe, ending the “cosmic dark ages”. This discovery is also a surprise: how can a quasar so luminous, and a black hole so massive, form so early in the history of the Universe, at an era soon after the earliest stars and galaxies have just emerged? This research result will be published in the scientific journal “Nature” on Feb 26, 2015.

Discovered in 1963, quasars are the most powerful objects beyond our Milky Way Galaxy. It shines itself as its central supermassive black hole actively accretes surrounding materials. Thanks to the power new generation of digital sky surveys, astronomers have discovered more than 200,000 quasars, ages ranging from 0.7 billion years after the Big Bang to today, with corresponding redshifts up to 7.085. Due to the expansion of the universe, objects are moving away from us. Wavelength of light received by us is larger than that of the originally emitted light. Redshift is defined as the ratio of the wavelength difference to the original wavelength.

The newly discovered quasar SDSS J0100+2802 is the one with the most massive black hole and the highest luminosity among all known distant quasars (Credits: Zhaoyu Li/Yunnan Observatory. The background photo, provided by Yunnan Observatory, shows the dome of the 2.4meter telescope and the sky over it)

High redshift traces structure and evolution of the early universe. However, despite of their high luminosity, they still appear faint due to their large distance away from us, and they are extremely rare on the sky, which make them very difficult to find. Among all the discovered 200,000 quasars, only 40 are 12.7 billion light year away with redshift higher than 6.

In recent years, a team led by Xue-Bing Wu, a professor of the Department of Astronomy, School of Physics at Peking University and the associate director of the Kavli Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, have developed a method to effectively select quasars with redshift higher than 5 based on optical and near-infrared photometric data, in particular, using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Explorer (WISE) satellite. Then with spectroscopic observations, they have systematically discovered a large number of new high redshift quasars. SDSS J0100+2802 is one among them but has the highest redshift in their sample, and one of the most distant quasars discovered.

The first optical spectrum obtained on Dec. 29, 2013 by the 2.4m LJT, shows that it is likely a quasar with redshift higher than 6.2. Active international collaborations allowed this team to further gather data from the MMT, the LBT, the Magellan Telescope and the Gemini Telescope. By carefully analyzing these data, the team confirmed SDSS J0100+2802 as a quasar with redshift of 6.3 and estimated its intrinsic properties. At 420 trillion solar luminosity, this new quasar is 7 times brighter than the most distant quasar known (which is 13 billion years away). It harbors a black hole with mass of 12 billion solar masses, proving it to be the most luminous quasar with the most massive black hole among all the known high redshift quasars. By comparison, our own Milky Way Galaxy has a black hole with a mass of only 3 million solar masses at its center; the black hole that powers this new quasar is four thousand times heavier.

The combined optical/near-infrared spectrum of J010012802 and the fitting of the MgII line. Main panel, the black line shows the LBT optical spectrum and the red line shows the combined Magellan and Gemini near-infrared J,H,K-band spectra (from left to right, respectively). Inset, fits of the MgII line (with FWHM of 5,130 +/- 150 km/s) and surrounding Fe II emissions

“This quasar is very unique. We are so excited, when we found that there is such luminous and massive quasar only 0.9 billion years after the Big Bang. Just like the brightest lighthouse in the distant universe, its glowing light will help us to probe more about the early universe.” said Xue-Bing Wu.

“This quasar was first discovered by our 2.4 meter telescope in Lijiang, Yunnan, China.” said Feige Wang, a PhD graduate student from Peking University who participated in the selection and identification of the quasar. “It is also currently the only one quasar with redshift larger than 6 ever discovered by a 2-meter telescope in the world. We are very proud of it.”

“Discovery of this ultra-luminous quasar presents a major puzzle to the theory of black hole growth at early universe. How can supermassive black holes grow so quickly when the Universe was so young? What is the relationship between this monster black hole and its surrounding environment, including its galaxy host? This ultra-luminous quasar with a 12 billion solar mass black hole provides a unique laboratory to the study of the mass assembly and galaxy formation around the most massive black hole at early Universe.” Added Prof. Xiaohui Fan from Steward Observatory, the University of Arizona who is part of this team.

For Christian Veillet, Director of the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory (LBTO), this discovery demonstrates both the power of international collaborations and the benefit of using a variety of facilities spread throughout the world.

“This result is particularly gratifying for LBTO, which is well on its way to full nighttime operations,” said Dr. Veillet. “While in this case, the authors used two different instruments in series, MODS1 for visible light spectroscopy and LUCI1 for near-infrared imaging, LBTO will soon offer a pair of MODS and a pair of LUCIs that can be used simultaneously, effectively doubling the number of observations possible in clear skies and ultimately creating even more exciting science”.

To further unveil the nature of this remarkable quasar, and to shed light on the physical processes that led to the formation of the earliest supermassive black holes , this research team will carry out further investigations on this quasar with more international telescopes including the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Telescope.

The LBT LUCI1 K-band image of J010012802. The size is 10"x10". 
The horizontal and vertical axes denote the offsets in Right Ascension (RA) and in Declination (DEC). 
The image, with seeing of 0.40", shows a morphology fully consistent with a point source.


An ultraluminous quasar with a twelve-billion-solar-mass black hole at redshift 6.30
Xue-Bing Wu, Feige Wang, Xiaohui Fan, Weimin Yi, Wenwen Zuo, Fuyan Bian, Linhua Jiang, Ian D. McGreer, Ran Wang, Jinyi Yang, Qian Yang, David Thompson & Yuri Beletsky

Nature 518, 512–515 (26 February 2015) doi:10.1038/nature14241

Thursday, January 29, 2015

First AO light on LUCI2

It is commissioning time for the diffraction limited mode of LUCI2, the near infrared imager and multi-object spectrograph which saw first light in seeing-limited mode back in November 2013.

Much work was performed during day time on the NCPA (non-common path aberrations) correction starting on January 19, 2015, to be ready for the first night of on-sky observing on January 26. Unfortunately, clouds and snow falls were followed on the 27th by yet another overcast night.

On the night of the 28th, a 2-hr gap of clear sky between waves of heavy clouds led to first light on LUCI2 in AO mode. With a seeing of about 1arcsec, the loop on the bright star HIP 15925 (6th mag) was closed the star imaged with LUCI2 and the FLAO system working with NCPA correction in HeI (1.1µm), FeII (1.6µm), and Br_gamma (2.2µm) filter bands. 

The Strehl ratios achieved at first light were 45% at 1.1µm, 75% at 1.6 and 2.2µm wavelength (see a very preliminary analysis on the pictures below), a tribute to the quality of the preparatory daytime work! 

There is obviously much work ahead over the next months to get the system ready for regular observations, but these first results augur well for the final performance of LUCI2 in diffraction-limited mode, and eventually of LUCI1 once equipped with its AO-compatible camera toward the end of the year!

LUCI2-AO commissioning work is led by W. Seifert (LUCI) and S. Esposito (AO)

Friday, January 23, 2015

First LBT interferometry science paper

The first designs of what became the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) were drawn more than 25 years ago, at a time when its observing modes were also conceptually defined, enabling the spatial resolution of a 23-m telescope while providing the versatility of a pair of 8-m telescopes. An important step was recently taken with the publication of the first refereed science paper using the NASA-Headquarters funded LBT Interferometer (LBTI).

LBTI (green and silver structure in the center of the picture) between the two 8.4m mirrors of LBT
LBTI coherently combines the two LBT beams to achieve the 23-m resolution the observatory offers today as a precursor to the Extremely Large Telescopes (ELTs) currently in development and hopefully operational in the mid-to-late 2020s. 

The published study reports LBTI's first test observations of stardust, in this case around a mature, sun-like star called eta Corvi known to be unusually dusty. According to the science team, this star is 10,000 times dustier than our own solar system, likely due to a recent impact between planetary bodies in its inner regions. The surplus of dust gives the telescope a good place to practice its dust-detecting skills.

The results show that the telescope works as intended: a tribute to the many who contributed to the development of the observatory.

Find more on this landmark paper in LBTO's history by reading the NASA-JPL press release entitled Telescope To Seek Dust Where Other Earths May Lie, issued on January 20, 2015. 

The article
D. Defrère, P. M. Hinz, A. J. Skemer, G. M. Kennedy, V. P. Bailey, W. F. Hoffmann, B. Mennesson, R. Millan-Gabet, W. C. Danchi, O. Absil
is published in the Astrophysical Journal and available online here.