14,296 research outputs found

    Instruments on large optical telescopes -- A case study

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    In the distant past, telescopes were known, first and foremost, for the sizes of their apertures. Advances in technology are now enabling astronomers to build extremely powerful instruments to the extent that instruments have now achieved importance comparable or even exceeding the usual importance accorded to the apertures of the telescopes. However, the cost of successive generations of instruments has risen at a rate noticeably above that of the rate of inflation. Here, given the vast sums of money now being expended on optical telescopes and their instrumentation, I argue that astronomers must undertake "cost-benefit" analysis for future planning. I use the scientific output of the first two decades of the W. M. Keck Observatory as a laboratory for this purpose. I find, in the absence of upgrades, that the time to reach peak paper production for an instrument is about six years. The prime lifetime of instruments (sans upgrades), as measured by citations returns, is about a decade. Well thought out and timely upgrades increase and sometimes even double the useful lifetime. I investigate how well instrument builders are rewarded. I find acknowledgements ranging from almost 100% to as low as 60%. Next, given the increasing cost of operating optical telescopes, the management of existing observatories continue to seek new partnerships. This naturally raises the question "What is the cost of a single night of telescope time". I provide a rational basis to compute this quantity. I then end the paper with some thoughts on the future of large ground-based optical telescopes, bearing in mind the explosion of synoptic precision photometric, astrometric and imaging surveys across the electromagnetic spectrum, the increasing cost of instrumentation and the rise of mega instruments.Comment: Revised from previous submission (typos fixed, table 6 was garbled). Submitted to PAS

    Noise in optical synthesis images. I. Ideal Michelson interferometer

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    We study the distribution of noise in optical images produced by the aperture synthesis technique, in which the principal source of noise is the intrinsic shot noise of photoelectric detection. The results of our analysis are directly applicable to any space-based optical interferometer. We show that the signal-to-noise ratio of images synthesized by such an ideal interferometric array is essentially independent of the details of the beam-combination geometry, the degree of array redundancy, and whether zero-spatial-frequency components are included in image synthesis. However, the distribution of noise does depend on the beam-combination geometry. A highly desirable distribution, one of uniform noise across the entire image, is obtained only when the beams from the n primary apertures are subdivided and combined pairwise on n(n - 1)/2 detectors

    High resolution imaging at Palomar

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    For the last two years we have embarked on a program of understanding the ultimate limits of ground-based optical imaging. We have designed and fabricated a camera specifically for high resolution imaging. This camera has now been pressed into service at the prime focus of the Hale 5 m telescope. We have concentrated on two techniques: the Non-Redundant Masking (NRM) and Weigelt's Fully Filled Aperture (FFA) method. The former is the optical analog of radio interferometry and the latter is a higher order extension of the Labeyrie autocorrelation method. As in radio Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI), both these techniques essentially measure the closure phase and, hence, true image construction is possible. We have successfully imaged binary stars and asteroids with angular resolution approaching the diffraction limit of the telescope and image quality approaching that of a typical radio VLBI map. In addition, we have carried out analytical and simulation studies to determine the ultimate limits of ground-based optical imaging, the limits of space-based interferometric imaging, and investigated the details of imaging tradeoffs of beam combination in optical interferometers