Spring 2011 News

Last updated 8 March 2011

Proposal Deadline for Semester 2011B (August 1, 2011 - January 31, 2012) is Friday, April 1, 2011.

Please review the information and use our ONLINE application form

Available instruments are listed here. Remote observing is offered from any location with broadband Internet access for any project that utilizes IRTF instruments. Click here for more information.

Telescope Allocation Committee
The current TAC members are Thomas Greathouse (SWRI), Michael Gregg (Lawrence Livermore Nat. Lab.), Kevin Luhman (Penn. State), Susan Lederer (Johnson Space Center), Mark Buie (SWRI), and Tracy Beck (STScI). This committee consists of three solar system and three non-solar system members.

Science Highlights and Publications
Our Science Highlights page is updated regularly as we receive the latest highlights from you. These highlights are sent to our funding agencies, NASA and NSF, to keep them abreast of the exciting and useful science obtained at the IRTF. See examples here. Please send updates or reprints on your publications to William Walters. Please acknowledge the IRTF in your publications following the instructions shown here. It is important that you include in your papers the name of the instrument used and the citation for the instrument, as this helps to insure future funding of IRTF instruments. For AAS publications, please include the facility keyword and instrument, such as IRTF:SpeX. Look here for more information.

Non-standard Observing Programs
We have a program to observe Titan whenever it is up and SpeX is on the telescope "Titan's Methane Meteorology: Context for Cassini Titan Flybys T63-T66" (PI: E. Schaller). This program is aimed at discovering new cloud features on Titan (see the Press Release). If there is evidence for activity on Titan then adaptive optics imaging is obtained at the Gemini or Keck observatories. The observing time is noted on the schedule and there is flexibility on when the observations are taken.

IRTF Spectral Library
Users are encouraged to make use of the spectral library, which is available here. The paper on Cool Stars has been submitted to ApJS and will be posted on the website when accepted for publication. Contact John Rayner for more details.

NEO Spectral Survey
The MIT-IRTF Near-Earth Object spectral survey is underway, and many spectra are publicly available. See the side bar for more information or go to

IRTF Headlines
The IRTF is making headlines for its work on the outer planets and Mars. See the articles below.


Personnel Spotlight

William Walters How do you take over a position that has been held by the same person for over 20 years? "Karan kept copious notes. I've kept those notes, and I treat them like gospel," said William Walters after taking over Karan Hughes's position as the IRTF's Telescope Assistant. Walters has been working for the Institute for Astronomy
(IfA) since 2007. In April 2009 Hughes retired, and he began filling in her duties sending out calls for proposals, building the observation schedule, coordinating meetings and answering general questions about observing on IRTF. "My biggest challenge is keeping up with all the various different tasks that Karen did and at the same time maintaining the vast array of professional contacts she had within the astronomy community," Walters said. Prior to working at IfA, Walters began working for the University of Hawaii in 2001 at the Hawai`i AIDS Clinical Research Program at the John A. Burns School of Medicine in Honolulu. "I've always enjoyed working with scientists and helping them reach their research goals," Walters said. When Walters is not working, he enjoys cycling, hiking and working in his garden at his home just outside of Hilo town.

Instrumentation Update

The effort to upgrade SpeX has made steady progress with the successful completion of the first round of testing of its new SGIR Stargrasp Array Controller. Additional tests are being designed with the final goal of preparing the controller to be hooked up to an actual H2RG infrared detector array.

Please be advised that we anticipate SpeX to be taken off line on Aug. 1, 2012, and it will be unavailable for the entire 2012B semester (Aug. 1, 2012 - Jan. 31, 2013) while it undergoes the scheduled detector upgrades. We strongly recommend observers to plan their observing accordingly. We also expect to accommodate key projects requiring large amounts of observing time using CSHELL, NSFCAM2, MIRSI, MORIS, and visitor instruments. Contact John Rayner for more details.

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The nascent IRTF Stargrasp pre-amplifier board undergoing bench testing at the Hilo IRTF Laboratory.

The MIRSI instrument has been successfully returned to service after undergoing maintenance to remove cold shorts and to optimize its liquid Helium consumption. Since being retuned to service it is using less liquid Helium making it less costly to operate. Much thanks goes out to Lars Bergknut for spearheading the effort and to all those involved with taking it apart and carefully putting it back together again. Contact John Rayner for any questions regarding MIRSI. #

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Lars Bergknut delves into the inner workings of the MIRSI Instrument.

This camera has been used on a conditional basis because of the high read-noise, which decreases the sensitivity at JHK. Be advised that the NSFCAM2 is currently best suited for observations in the thermal infrared (3-5 microns), since it is background limited and the image quality is excellent, or where a wide field of view of 0.04 arcsec pixels is required. NSFCAM2 recently had its cryogenic coldhead and control computer replaced to keep it operational. Be advised that it's scheduled to be taken off the telescope on October 1, 2011 to receive a new infrared detector and array controller. NSFCAM2 will act as a test bed for the new SGIR Stargrasp controller that eventually will be used on the SpeX upgrade and new iShell instrument, which are both under fabrication. Please check the status of this instrument before writing a proposal by contacting Bobby Bus.

CSHELL is working normally. The new user GUI is now in regular use. Please be advised that observing macros written for the old GUI should be tested prior to observing. This past semester CSHELL has been used to demonstrate a calibrating technique that uses gas cells. Its resulting data is being analyzed, because a similar calibrating mechanism is being considered for use in the new iSHELL instrument. Contact John Rayner for more details.

Fabrication of the new iSHELL instrument is fully underway. Lead mechanical engineer Tim Bond has reported much progress in designing the many folds the light path will take within the instrument, and he has produced three dimensional mechanical drawings of how the instrument will look and operate. Other components such as the optics, filters and filter/grating carousels are being designed and sourced. The immersion grating is currently being produced at the University of Texas (UT) using micro-machining techniques that UT has perfected over the last decade. When completed the spectral resolving power of the iSHELL instrument will be approximately 70,000 making it an exciting new tool to use in the Northern hemisphere for scientific discovery. A PDF copy of the proposal can be downloaded here. We welcome input from the community on this new major instrument for the IRTF. Contact Alan Tokunaga if you have any questions or comments about the proposal.

New Secondary Mirrors:
Michael Connelley has completed the secondary mirror project, and the new secondary Mirror "A" has been successfully used on the telescope since October 2010. The backup secondary Mirror "B" is currently undergoing silver coating with a protective AL203 overcoat by L&L Optical Services in Santa Ana California. Once coated Mirror "B" will undergo testing and eventual deployment during engineering runs planned this semester. As a result of everything he learned about the IRTF during the secondary mirror upgrade program, Connelley has developed an Image Quality Budget and a clear set of goals that he will be pursuing to improve the telescope's overall performance. This effort will begin with development of a refined Focus Assist Tool that incorporates real-time focus adjustments using temperature and telescope flexure variables. Connelley's long-term plans include using wavefront sensors to further refine the telescope's image quality.