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Early this month, we had our first commissioning run of the Folded Port Infrared Echellette, or FIRE, a near-infrared spectrograph designed for the Magellan Telescopes.  After a two-week installation period in late February/early March led by the instrument PI Rob Simcoe, FIRE team members John Bochanski and Matt Smith from MIT and Craig McMurtry from U. Rochester, and Magellan engineers (I missed all the action, teaching 250 students Physics 1), FIRE was ready to view the sky for a week-long commissioning run starting March 28th.

Early results have been spectacular.  A few of the image frames from the first week are shown below.  The high quantum efficiency and low readnoise of the Teledyne Hawaii 2RG detectors, and the excellent image quality of the Baade Telescope, has resulted in higher sensitivity than originally planned.   In the echelle mode, Rob has estimated roughly 20-25% efficiency, including telescope and slit losses, and a nearly-flat zero point of 16-17 AB magnitudes (1 count/sec/pixel) across the 0.85-2.4 micron range.  In plain language, this means we can observe very faint sources – such as a the coldest brown dwarfs and highest redshift quasars – with the echelle mode’s moderate resolution (λ/Δλ ≈ 6000).  The prism-dispersed mode has also proven very sensitive, and we’ve been able to follow-up several J ≈ 19-20 cold brown dwarf candidates from WISE with relative ease.  Look for first science results in the literature soon!

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Mark's presentation on creating educational podcasts

I’ve just finished watching a video presentation by Mark Pentleton of Coffee Break French and Radiolingua fame (see my prior post on Online French Language Resources), describing how he creates enhanced audio podcasts for language learning. This is an excellent roadmap for all kinds of educational podcasts (with a Mac), such as the Mechanics Minilessons I’m trying (slowly) to produce for my Physics 1A class.

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The FIRE spectrograph

The FIRE spectrograph in the MIT lab, cooling down for testing

Today we obtained our first lab images with the Folded Port Infrared Echellette, or FIRE, spectrograph.  This instrument is being built by Rob Simcoe, myself, Paul Schechter, John Bochanski, Jason Fishner and Matt Smith at MIT; Criag McMurtry, Judy Pipher and Bill Forrest at U. Rochester; and Rebecca Bernstein and Bruce Bigelow at UC Santa Cruz.  FIRE is a near-infrared spectrograph that will be installed at the Magellan Telescopes, Las Campanas Observatory, hopefully in January 2010.

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51jb3twbrhl_aa280_.jpgThis week I received an IRex Iliad, an e-reader that has gotten increased scrutiny as a result of the Amazon Kindle launch (funny how Amazon’s launch has probably helped increase the sales of its rivals). My choice of the Iliad came after weighing the benefits of some of the the major e-readers now out there (see this Wired review and this MobileRead grid), and my personal desire to have something I can read research papers with while commuting or at home, without wasting paper and ink.

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