Science contact

Klaus Meisenheimer
Phone: +49 6221 528-206
Room: 230

Public information officer

Jäger, Klaus
Klaus Jäger
Scientific coordinator
Phone: +49 6221 528-379
Room: 216 H

"First Light" for PANIC at Calar Alto Observatory

December 05, 2014

After about 8 years of development, the near-infrared wide-field camera PANIC entered operations during the full moon night November 6/7 2014 at the Calar Alto 2.2m telescope. This so-called "First Light" is without question the most important milestone for any astronomical telescope or instrument.

PANIC (PAnoramic Near-Infrared Camera) is a joint project of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) in Heidelberg and the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía (IAA) Granada. The project management is shared between Matilde Fernandez (IAA) and Klaus Meisenheimer in Heidelberg (until his retirement Josef Fried was the project manager at MPIA). While IAA is mainly responsible for the optical design, optical adjustment and the observation- and pipeline software, MPIA takes care for mechanics (cryostat, filter wheels, etc.), the readout electronics and the motor controller.

The new instrument is amazing in multiple ways. While the development of highly sensitive electronic CCD cameras has revolutionized astronomical observations in visible light since the 1980s (with many elements of this technology now used in everyday cameras), the development of similar cameras for the infrared was much more difficult – particularly to achieve both large fields of view and good spatial resolution. PANIC consists of four detectors (with 2048 x 2048 pixels each), forming a square mosaic. When mounted at the 2.2m telescope, it is possible to map a field of view of ½ degree in diameter at a resolution of 0.45 arcsec per pixel. Thus, the PANIC field covers roughly the average apparent diameter of the full moon and allows both the detailed investigation of nearby extended objects and the observation of large samples (eg. surveys of distant clusters of galaxies).

Infrared observations are key to understanding many astronomical observations since the radiation from young stars and planetary systems penetrates their surrounding dust clouds only at longer wavelengths. Furthermore, the observation of distant galaxies is much easier, since important parts of their light spectrum are shifted into the infrared due to the expansion of the universe.

The first test images with PANIC have already demonstrated its.

<strong>Figure 1:</strong> The full moon on November 6 at 22:06 UT in the near-infrared. Although the Moon is not a typical target for a large telescope, this image illustrates PANIC's enormous field of view, particularly when compared to other infrared cameras. The moon was only three days past its closest possible distance to earth and it therefore over fills the mosaic (whose four detectors are separated by 75 arc seconds (black columns)). This 1.6 second exposure was taken through a filter with only 1% transmission centered at 2.118 microns.<br /><br /> Klaus Meisenheimer: <em>"Despite the narrow filter and the short exposure time we had to use the telescope dome to "dim" the light to avoid overexposure."</em> The raw image is only slightly processed to compensate position-dependent detector sensitivity (different brightness of the quadrants) and bad pixels. A dark current correction was not made. Zoom Image
Figure 1: The full moon on November 6 at 22:06 UT in the near-infrared. Although the Moon is not a typical target for a large telescope, this image illustrates PANIC's enormous field of view, particularly when compared to other infrared cameras. The moon was only three days past its closest possible distance to earth and it therefore over fills the mosaic (whose four detectors are separated by 75 arc seconds (black columns)). This 1.6 second exposure was taken through a filter with only 1% transmission centered at 2.118 microns.

Klaus Meisenheimer: "Despite the narrow filter and the short exposure time we had to use the telescope dome to "dim" the light to avoid overexposure." The raw image is only slightly processed to compensate position-dependent detector sensitivity (different brightness of the quadrants) and bad pixels. A dark current correction was not made.
<br /> <strong>Figure 2:</strong> Spiral galaxy Messier 74 (NGC 628) in the constellation Pisces at a distance of about 35 million light-years. The PANIC near infrared image was also taken on November 6, 2014 (23:55 UT). Given its large apparent size, a one shot full portrait of this galaxy is more typically a target for much smaller telescopes. However, M74 fits comfortably in one of the four PANIC detectors. Two shots of only 30 seconds exposure time were combined. The intensity of the typical infrared sky background exceeds even the bright galactic nucleus by a factor of 30. A relatively simple correction (sky subtraction) is achieved by a measurement on the same detector while the object is recorded alternately on a different detector. Between the exposures the telescopes line of sight is slightly moved. Zoom Image

Figure 2: Spiral galaxy Messier 74 (NGC 628) in the constellation Pisces at a distance of about 35 million light-years. The PANIC near infrared image was also taken on November 6, 2014 (23:55 UT). Given its large apparent size, a one shot full portrait of this galaxy is more typically a target for much smaller telescopes. However, M74 fits comfortably in one of the four PANIC detectors. Two shots of only 30 seconds exposure time were combined. The intensity of the typical infrared sky background exceeds even the bright galactic nucleus by a factor of 30. A relatively simple correction (sky subtraction) is achieved by a measurement on the same detector while the object is recorded alternately on a different detector. Between the exposures the telescopes line of sight is slightly moved.
 
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