Fall 2003 News

From the Division Chief
We are continuing to strive to improve the instrumentation on the IRTF, and as a result there are some important announcements you should read before proposing for time for the February–July 2004 semester.

First, we have brought the adaptive optics system back to Hilo for improvements, so it will not be available.

Second, we will be modifying NSFCAM for use with adaptive optics. It will not be available during April–August 2004, but SpeX will be available for imaging.

Third, MIRLIN will not be available. Instead, MIRSI, a new 10–micron camera, is being offered.

Fourth, a new visible CCD camera is available for observations (including proposals that use only this camera). See below for more details on these items.

We also have changes to our staff, and I would like to welcome new members to the IRTF. Eric Tollestrup joins us from Boston University as our new Deputy Division Chief. He will be responsible for operations in Hilo, and will work on the adaptive optics system and on improving image quality. I would like to thank John Rayner for his time and contributions as the Deputy Division Chief since 1997. John will focus on finishing the upgrade of NSFCAM and improving SpeX.

Another new staff member is Jim Pantaleo. He is working with Tony Denault to finish the software for the new Telescope Control System. Eric Volquardsen is our newest staff member. He is a Research Associate who will be a night assistant for remote observing and also assist with data analysis. Check out our staff photo gallery to see their cheery faces

Major improvements to the facility are continuing. Our efforts to improve image quality are now concentrated on sealing the dome shutter and cooling the primary mirror. We are also implementing autofocus software that will allow convenient focusing of the telescope and quantitative seeing data. Another project is the replacement of our 24–year–old telescope control system. We plan to complete this work in 2 years.

Finally, please note below our pleas for science highlights, updating our bibliography, and driving safely.

Proposal Deadline for February 2004 – July 2004
Spring 2004 semester observing proposals are due on Wednesday, October 1. See the instructions, current application form, and list of instruments.

Our adaptive optics system has been brought back to Hilo for improvements. We plan to return it to the telescope by February 2004 for further engineering tests. We are also upgrading NSFCAM with a 2048x2048 array with 40–milliarc pixels for use with adaptive optics. As a result, NSFCAM will not be available from April through August 2004. We plan for NSFCAM to be ready in September 2004 in time to support the Cassini mission.

While NSFCAM is off–line, imaging with SpeX is available. See the Spex web site for further information.

MIRLIN, our facility 10–micron camera built by Mike Ressler (JPL), has been showing its age and has not been as reliable as is necessary for a facility instrument. We will therefore no longer support MIRLIN. We are grateful to Mike for making it available to IRTF users for the past several years.

We are now offering MIRSI, an 8–24 micron camera built at Boston University (Lynn Deutsch, PI), on a collaborative basis with the MIRSI team. Please check the MIRSI web site for details, and contact Joe Hora ( regarding collaborations with the MIRSI team.

A visible CCD camera (Apogee) is now available. Although it was built to support nearly simultaneous visible–IR observations of asteroids, it can also be used as a stand–alone instrument. It is thermoelectrically cooled, and utilizes a Marconi 1024 x 1024 CCD that has 13–micron–square pixels and a measured read–noise of 12 electrons.

We operate the camera at –30 degrees C, which results in an average dark current of 2.7 electrons/sec. During readout, pixels are binned 2 x 2, producing 512 x 512 images with a pixel scale of 0.13 arcsec/pixel and a field of view of 66 arcsec. Initial sensitivity tests have shown that this camera can yield a 10–sigma detection of an R = 19.5 magnitude point source in 30 sec through a standard R–band filter. Contact Bobby Bus for more details (

Driving Hazard
Caution is required on the portion of the Saddle Road between the 12- and 14-mile markers. Comply with the speed limits and heed all "dangerous curve" warnings. Numerous accidents have occurred along this stretch of road.

Science Highlights
A list of IRTF science highlights is maintained on our web site. Please notify your support astronomer of any exciting science that we may include there. We send these science highlights to NASA and the NSF, since they provide funding for our operations and instrumentation, respectively.

The importance of maintaining our IRTF bibliography cannot be overstated. Please keep us informed of all new papers through our online submission form, or you can e-mail us. Of course, please remember to acknowledge the IRTF.

Telescope Allocation Committee
Drs. Michael Simon and Faith Vilas have rotated off the IRTF TAC. Drs. Daniel Jaffe (U. Texas) and Daniel Britt (U. Central Florida) are the new members beginning this fall semester through spring 2005. Click here for the full membership list.