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Adaptive Optics Assisted Integral Field Spectrograph SINFONI Installed at VLT

Cerro Paranal, Chile, – August 24, 2004:   A new and very powerful astronomical instrument, a world-leader in its field, has been installed on the Very Large Telescope at the Paranal Observatory (Chile). Known as SINFONI ("Spectrograph for INtegral Field Observation in the Near-Infrared"), it was mounted
  at the Cassegrain focus of the 8.2-m VLT Yepun telescope. First Light of the completed instrument was achieved on July 9, 2004 and various test observations during the subsequent commissioning phase were carried out with great success.

This instrument – an adaptive optics (AO) assisted integral field spectrograph – is the first facility of its type ever installed on an 8-m class telescope, and it now provides exceptional observing capabilities for combined imaging and spectroscopic studies of very complex sky regions, such as stellar nurseries, black-hole environments and distant galaxies.

SINFONI has two parts, the Near Infrared Integral Field Spectrograph, also known as SPIFFI (SPectrometer for Infrared Faint Field Imaging), and the Adaptive Optics Module.
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SPIFFI was developed at the Max Planck Institut für Extraterrestrische Physik (MPE) Garching, Germany, in a collaboration with the Nederlandse Onderzoekschool Voor Astronomie (NOVA) in Leiden, the Netherlands Foundation for Research in Astronomy (ASTRON), The Netherlands, and the European Southern Observatory (ESO), Garching, Germany. The Adaptive Optics (AO) Module was developed by ESO.
Once fully commissioned, SINFONI will provide adaptive-optics assisted Integral Field Spectroscopy in the near-infrared 1.1 µm – 2.45 µm waveband. This advanced technique provides simultaneous spectra of numerous adjacent regions in a small sky field, e.g., of an interstellar nebula, the stars in a dense stellar cluster or a galaxy. Astronomers refer to these data as "3D-spectra" or "data cubes" (i.e., one spectrum for each small area in the two-dimensional sky field).

Following smooth assembly at the 8.2-m VLT Yepun telescope of SINFONI's two parts, the SPIFFI spectrograph and the Adaptive Optics Module that feeds it, the "First Light" spectrum of a bright star was recorded with SINFONI in the early evening of July 9, 2004.

The following thirteen nights served to evaluate the performance of the new instrument and to explore its capabilities by test observations on a selection of exciting astronomical
SINFONI at the VLT Yepun Cassegrain Focus
Photo:   © ESO
Science With Adaptive Optics, Brandner
targets. They included the Galactic Centre region, already imaged with the NACO AO-instrument on the same telescope. Unprecedented high-angular resolution spectra and images were obtained of stars in the immediate vicinity of the massive central black hole. During the night of July 15–16, SINFONI recorded a flare from this black hole in great detail.

Other interesting objects observed during this period include galaxies with active nuclei (e.g., the Circinus Galaxy and NGC 7469), a merging galaxy system (NGC 6240) and a young starforming galaxy pair at redshift 2 (BX 404/405).

These first results were greeted with enthusiasm by the team of astronomers and engineers from the consortium of German and Dutch Institutes and ESO who have worked on the development of SINFONI for nearly 7 years. The work on SINFONI at Paranal included successful commissioning in June 2004 of the Adaptive Optics Module built by ESO, Commissioning tests demonstrated the ability to correct atmospheric turbulence using even very faint "guide" objects (magnitude 17.5), crucial for the observation of astronomical objects in many parts of the sky.

Further Information About SINFONI:  
The SINFONI Adaptive Optics Module is based on a 60-element curvature system, similar to the Multi Application Curvature Adaptive Optics devices (MACAO), developed by the ESO Adaptive Optics Department and of which three have already been installed at the VLT (see news item "VLT Interferometer Gets Adaptive Optics Feed"), the last one in August 2004.

Provided a sufficiently bright reference source ("guide star") is available within 60 arcsec of the observed field, the SINFONI AO module will ultimately offer diffraction-limited images (resolution 0.050 arcsec) at a wavelength of 2 µm. At the centre of the field, partial correction can be performed with guide stars as faint as magnitude 17.5. In about 6-months' time, it will benefit from a sodium Laser Guide Star, achieving a much better sky coverage than is now possible.

SPIFFI is a fully cryogenic near-infrared integral field spectrograph allowing observers to obtain simultaneously spectra of 2048 pixels within a 64×32 pixel field-of-view. In conjunction with the AO Module, it performs spectroscopy with slit-width sampling at the diffraction limit of an 8-m class telescope. For observations of very faint, extended celestial objects, the spatial resolution can be degraded so that both sensitivity and field-of-view are increased. SPIFFI works in the near-infrared wavelength range (1.1 µm – 2.45 µm) with a moderate spectral resolving power (R = 1500 to 4500).

Adaptive Optics in Astronomy, Roddier
H. Bonnet, R. Abuter, A. Baker, W. Bornemann, A. Brown, R. Castillo, R. Conzelmann, R. Damster, R. Davies, B. Delabre, R. Donaldson, C. Dumas, F. Eisenhauer, E. Elswijk, E. Fedrigo, G. Finger, H. Gemperlein, R. Genzel, A. Gilbert, G. Gillet, A. Goldbrunner, M. Horrobin, R. ter Horst, S. Huber, N. Hubin, C. Iserlohe, A. Kaufer, M. Kissler-Patig, J. Kragt, G. Kroes, M. Lehnert, W. Lieb, J. Liske, J.-L. Lizon, D. Lutz, A. Modigliani, G. Monnet, N. Nesvadba, J. Patig, J. Pragt, J. Reunanen, C. Röhrle, S. Rossi, R. Schmutzer, T. Schoenmaker, J. Schreiber, S. Stroebele, T. Szeifert, L. Tacconi, M. Tecza, N. Thatte, S. Tordo, P.van der Werf and H. Weisz,
"First light of SINFONI at the VLT," The Messenger 117, 17–24 (2004)
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