• W. M. Keck Observatory Achieves First light with LRIS Upgrade

    May 03, 2021

    Maunakea, Hawaii - W. M. Keck Observatory’s science community is celebrating the successful revitalization of the Low Resolution Imaging Spectrometer, or LRIS - one of the Observatory’s acclaimed instruments used in Nobel Prize-winning research.
    The new LRIS red detector achieved first light on April 27, 2021
    after capturing an image of Messier 58, a spiral galaxy located

    about 68 million light-years away from Earth. Credit: P. Gomez, J. OʻMeara, W. M. Keck Observatory/UC Santa Cruz Technical Laboratories

    The instrument team tasked with the LRIS rescue mission has completed a 2-night engineering run; within hours of the first night on Tuesday, April 27, they achieved first light with a crisp image of the galaxy Messier 58.
    “This has been a labor of love for many people here at the observatory and at UC Santa Cruz,” says John O’Meara, chief scientist at Keck Observatory. “We can now continue to enable science from one of the most scientifically productive instruments in the Keck portfolio, if not one of the most impactful ground-based astronomical instruments in the world.” 

    LRIS is most known for enabling supernovae research that revealed the universe is expanding at a faster rate  – a discovery that won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics.

    W. M. Keck Observatory Electronics/Instrument Technician
    Jeremy Daniels (left) andInstruments Engineer Dwight Chan (right)
    installing the new red detector on the LRIS instrument.

    Built at Caltech and commissioned 28 years ago, LRIS is one of Keck Observatory’s oldest instruments. The spectrometer ‘sees’ in the visible band of the electromagnetic spectrum; its most notable feature is its high sensitivity to both red light (longer wavelengths) and blue light (shorter wavelengths), which LRIS captures simultaneously using two separate cameras working together. Last year, the red side began failing. To save LRIS, the Keck Observatory-UC Santa Cruz instrument team developed a new, replacement red detector system.
    “This was a real opportunity to put some of the best new detector technology in LRIS, and it was wonderful to see that first image come in and know we will keep LRIS on sky doing great science,” says Principal Investigator Connie Rockosi, associate director of UC Santa Cruz Technical Laboratories.
    “LRIS requires very high maintenance but despite its age, no one wants to give it up,” says LRIS Instrument Scientist Luca Rizzi, lead astronomer for scientific software at Keck Observatory. “It is such an important instrument, astronomers love to take good care of it and put in the time for it. Mahalo and congratulations to the entire upgrade team for bringing back its red superpowers!”
    With installation and commissioning now complete, LRIS will be available to the Keck Observatory science community beginning May 7.

    The LRIS upgrade team (left to right): Sunil Simha, UC Santa Cruz Astronomy & Astrophysics graduate student; Percy Gomez, Keck Observatory staff astronomer; Dale Sandford, UC Santa Cruz Technical Laboratories electronics and detector specialist; Nick Suominen, Keck Observatory instrument technician, Connie Rockosi (PI), UC Santa Cruz Technical Laboratories associate director; Dwight Chan, Keck Observatory instruments engineer; Arina Rostopchina, Keck Observatory observing assistant; and Sherry Yeh, Keck Observatory staff astronomer.
    Photo Credit: D. Sandford, UC Santa Cruz

    Other members of the team (not pictured): Marc Kassis, Keck Observatory instrument program manager; Shui Kwok, Keck Observatory senior software engineer; Kyle Lanclos, Keck Observatory software engineer III; Ben McCarney, Keck Observatory electronics engineer; Shelly Pelfrey, Keck Observatory outreach coordinator; Luca Rizzi, Keck Observatory lead astronomer for scientific software; and Maureen Savage, UC Santa Cruz Technical Laboratories manager.

    Mahalo and congratulations to the entire team!
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