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First Light for the VLT's NAOS-CONICA Facility Adaptive Optics Instrument

Cerro Paranal, Chile, – December 3, 2001:   A team of astronomers and engineers from French and German research institutes, and ESO at the Paranal Observatory is celebrating the successful accomplishment of "first light" for NAOS-CONICA, the VLT's main adaptive optics instrument. This event
  marks another important milestone for the Very Large Telescope (VLT) project.

Adaptive optics technology uses computer-controlled, flexible mirrors to counteract the image distortion induced by atmospheric turbulence in real time, to produce images at the diffraction limit of the telescope – that is, as sharp as if the telescope were in space.

During a four-week period of preparatory work, the adaptive optics team assembled and installed this major astronomical instrument on the 8.2-m VLT "Yepun" Unit Telescope (UT4). On November 25, 2001, following careful adjustments of the complex apparatus, a steady stream of photons from a southern star bounced off the computer-controlled deformable mirror inside NAOS to form, in the CONICA camera, the sharpest image produced so far by one of the VLT telescopes.
 
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With a core angular diameter of only 0.07 arcsec, this image is near the theoretical limit possible for a telescope of this size and the infrared wavelength used for this demonstration (the K-band at 2.2 µm). Subsequent tests reached a near-diffraction-limited performance of 0.04 arcsec in the J-band (1.2 µm).
 
"I am proud of this impressive achievement", says ESO Director General Catherine Cesarsky. "It shows the true potential of European science and technology and it provides a fine demonstration of the value of international collaboration. ESO and its partner institutes and companies in France and Germany have worked a long time towards this goal – with the first, extremely promising results, we shall soon be able to offer a new and fully tuned instrument to our wide research community."

The Nasmyth Adaptive Optics System (NAOS) was built, under an ESO contract and with the support of INSU-CNRS, by the Office National d'Etudes et de Recherches Aérospatiales (ONERA), the Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Grenoble (LAOG) and the DESPA and DASGAL laboratories of the Observatoire de Paris in France, in collaboration with ESO. The Project Manager was Gérard Rousset
NAOS-CONICA on the Nasmyth B platform of the 8.2-m VLT YEPUN Unit Telescope.
From left to right:   The telescope adapter/rotator (dark blue);   NAOS (light blue);   the CONICA cryostat (red).   The control electronics are housed in the white cabinet.
Photo:   © ESO
Science With Adaptive Optics, Brandner
(ONERA), the Instrument Responsible was François Lacombe (Observatoire de Paris) and the Project Scientist was Anne-Marie Lagrange (Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Grenoble).

The CONICA infra-red camera was built, under an ESO contract, by the Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie (MPIA) (Heidelberg) and the Max-Planck Institut für Extraterrestrische Physik (MPE) (Garching) in Germany, in collaboration with ESO. The Principal Investigator (PI) was Rainer Lenzen (MPIA), with Reiner Hofmann (MPE) as Co-Investigator.

First light for NAOS-CONICA takes place less than four weeks after "first fringes" were achieved with the VLT Interferometer (VLTI) with two of the 8.2-m Unit Telescopes. No wonder that a spirit of great enthusiasm reigns at Paranal!


Reference: 
Adaptive Optics in Astronomy, Roddier
W. Brandner, G. Rousset, R. Lenzen, N. Hubin, F. Lacombe, R. Hofmann, A. Moorwood, A.-M. Lagrange, E. Gendron, M. Hartung, P. Puget, N. Ageorges, P. Biereichel, H. Bouy, J. Charton, G. Dumont, T. Fusco, Y. Jung, M. Lehnert,
J.-L. Lizon, G. Monnet, D. Mouillet, C. Moutou, D. Rabaud, C. Röhrle, S. Skole, J. Spyromilio, C. Storz,
l. Tacconi-Garman and G. Zins, "NAOS+CONICA at YEPUN: First VLT Adaptive Optics System Sees First Light,"
The Messenger 107, 1–6 (2002)
 
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