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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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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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