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Messenger No139

Messenger No139

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Published by: European Southern Observatory on Mar 26, 2010
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The Messenger
No. 139 – March 2010
   L  a  s  e  r   d  e  v  e   l  o  p  m  e  n   t  a   t   E   S   O   P  r  o  g  r  e  s  s  o  n   K   M   O   S   B   l  a  c   k   h  o   l  e  m  a  s  s  o   f   C  e  n  -   A   A  s   t  r  o  n  g   l  y   l  e  n  s  e   d  s  u   b  -  m   i   l   l   i  m  e   t  r  e  g  a   l  a  x  y
The Messenger 139
– March 2010
 Telescopes and Instrumentation
The Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA): Looking Back at Commissioning
Jim Emerson
Will Sutherland
Astronomy Unit, Queen Mary Universityof London, United Kingdom
The ESO near-infrared survey tele-scope, VISTA, is about to enter opera-tion. Dry runs for VISTA’s PublicSurveys have been in progress sinceNovember 2009 and the full surveyswill begin soon. Some points from the VISTA commissioning are outlined.
Introduction VISTA, the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy, is a 4.1-metrewide-eld survey telescope, equippedwith a 1.65-degree eld, (67-Mpixel) near-infrared (NIR) camera, for performingextensive surveys of the southern skieswith sensitivity matched to the needsof 8-metre-class telescopes. Over its rstve years of operations, the majorityof VISTA’s time will be used for six ESOPublic Surveys (Arnaboldi et al., 2007).NIR imaging surveys particularly targetthe cold, the obscured, and the highredshift Universe, to generate sciencedirectly and also in order to select objectsworthy of further study by the Very Large Telescope (VLT). Details of the design of VISTA were givenin Emerson et al. (2004), a progressupdate in Emerson et al. (2006), picturesof the NIR camera in
The Messenger 
 (131, 6), the site in issue 132 (p. 55), theprimary mirror (M1) installation in issues132 and 133 (p. 6 and 67 respectively),the camera being lifted up through theazimuth oor (138, 2) and the rst releaseof images was also described in
(138, 2). Here we outline someinteresting points from the commission-ing period.Early work  The only change from the system de-scribed in Emerson et al. (2004) was thata
lter was added in the camera, asthe Raytheon Vision Systems IR detec-tors were measured to have a quantumefciency (QE) that was still good evenat a wavelength as short as
(0.88 µm)— where QE ~ 70%.Commissioning generally went smoothly,with no major problems requiring redesignor re-manufacture, although most taskstended to take rather longer than antici-pated. It was heartening that there wereno fundamental problems, but frustratingthat many individually small problemseach took time to solve. Here we focuson some points that arose, but theemphasis here on problems that weresolved should not obscure the factthat VISTA now works very well, as theimages from the press release in Decem-ber 2009 (ESO Press Release eso0949)and the image of part of the Orion Nebula,on the front cover, demonstrate.
Figure 1.
VISTA’s camera is shown being mountedonto the telescope. The camera (black) has beenlifted from the ground oor through a removablesector in the dome oor, using the enclosure crane(yellow at top) and the lifting arm (blue). The enclo-sure is rotated to place the camera behind thetelescope (this picture). Next the camera is movedinto the M1 hole and bolted to the Cassegrainrotator, and nally the electronics boxes are tted.
Figure 2.
A view of VISTA’s camera on the telescopewith all the electronics boxes mounted (with theirback covers off in this image). The open lifting hatchcan be seen on the right, with the yellow craneabove. The white circle at the top serves both as aMoon screen, and as a screen for taking linearitysequences and instrument health monitoring frames.
   C  r  e   d   i   t  :   S .   B  e  a  r   d   C  r  e   d   i   t  :   S .   B  e  a  r   d
The Messenger 139
– March 2010
 To start with, construction went smoothly,and the enclosure was ready for thetelescope structure, which was installedduring 2006. In early 2007, we had arun with dummy masses in place of themirrors, and a small 20-cm telescopemounted on the Cassegrain rotator, look-ing up through a hole in the top-endstructure (designed for this reason). Thisrun was useful to debug the telescopesoftware, build a preliminary pointingmodel, and showed that the basic track-ing and slewing performance were good. Shortly afterwards, the secondary mir-ror (M2) arrived and was successfullycoated in protected silver. VISTA’s cam-era was own to Chile in January 2007and checked out for performance on site,using a small “spot projector” mountedin front of the window. There had beenno damage in transport, and the processof mounting the camera onto the tele-scope was subsequently tried out suc-cessfully (see Figure 1). Figure 2 showsthe back view of VISTA, with the cameraand its electronics boxes mounted onthe Cassegrain rotator.Primary mirror (M1) polishingSo far so good! However the time takento complete the polishing of M1 thenprevented VISTA being delivered on thetimescale expected at that time. This4.1-metre f/1 mirror is the most highlycurved large mirror ever polished and thistask proved to take much longer thananticipated. The fast mirror means that itis highly aspheric, with departures fromthe best-t sphere of around 0.8 mm;this means that small polishing tools wereneeded, different for different zones onthe mirror, which increases the polishingtime. This was a known difculty fromearly on, but it appears that the time-scales were underestimated by the man-ufacturer. The lateness was especiallyfrustrating as the very rst thing the VISTA project did after securing funding wasto purchase the M1 blank in 2001 and theshaping of the blank was complete by April 2003, so it was highly regrettablethat completion of M1 took so long, andthat the manufacturer’s polishing time esti-mates only converged to the actual timeso very near to the end. However, thequality of polishing nally achieved washigh. To claw back some time, the M1was not shipped by sea, but instead wasown from Moscow to Antofagasta inan Antonov transport plane, arriving at VISTA during Easter 2008. The coating plant provided with VISTA then produced a very high quality andstable coating in protected silver (seeFigure 3), enhancing VISTA’s sensitivitycompared to a conventional aluminiumcoating.Camera on sky As soon as the M1 mirror had beencoated it was installed in the telescope,and a test camera containing a Shack–Hartmann system was used to set upan initial pointing model and active opticssettings. It soon became apparent thatthe system showed some trefoil (a thirdorder optical aberration). It was suspectedthat this was associated with the M2axial deners, and this was conrmed bymounting the M2 and its cell rotatedby 180 degrees, which changed the signof the trefoil. Then, the M2 manufacturerscame to Chile, disassembled and in-spected the M2 cell. They found nothingwrong, and it was carefully reassembled,in parallel with VISTA’s camera beingmounted in place of the test camera (seeFigure 4). It was expected that the activesupport forces on M1 would be ableto compensate for the effect of the trefoilon M2, and this indeed proved to bethe case. It is still unclear how this trefoilarose. Measurements at the factoryshowed trefoil was not present there,when tested with similar support forcesto those when mounted on the telescope.It is not possible to rotate M2 relativeto its cell to see if the trefoil is due to thecell or the mirror itself. As the systemimage quality now comfortably meets itsspecication of 50% encircled energydiameter of 0.51 arcseconds, the trefoilhas been accepted, though it would begood to understand its origin and thenhopefully get rid of it at source, rather thancorrecting with M1 forces. The camera rst observed the sky on23 June 2008 with the auxiliary CCDs(for autoguiding and wavefront sensing),and with the IR detectors on 24 June. The rst images were recognisable withthe expected setup parameters, andthe image quality was improved over the
Figure 3.
M1 after coat-ing in protected silver inthe VISTA coating plant.
Figure 4.
The VISTA tele-scope shown from thefront at low elevation.
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