Raising the assembled NEWFIRM instrument for on-telescope installation and first light

NEWFIRM is a wide-field-of-view, high-resolution, near-infrared imager, with a 28 x 28 arcminute field of view over the 1.0–2.4 micrometer wavelength range. It has a 4000 x 4000 pixel detector mosaic, and a pixel scale of 0.4 arcseconds per pixel. Designed to achieve the sensitivity required for very deep imaging, NEWFIRM is tasked with the goal of maximizing uniform coverage of large bordering sky areas. By doing this, it can effectively capture the cosmic history of star formation and evolution, as well as search for the origins of protostars and planets. 

In order to push the boundaries of infrared survey science, NEWFIRM was constructed with several requirements in mind. The most important is that it will not degrade the telescope-delivered image quality by more than 10% in terms of enlargement of the point source. Stitching image mosaics together while preserving photometric and astrometric precision is difficult with geometric distortion; thus, the edge-of-field distortion will be sufficiently small. Next, NEWFIRM will have a throughput equal to that of other infrared cameras. This is because one of the factors in survey efficiency is instrument sensitivity, which depends on the throughput. Lastly, the instrument is required to have a guide capability external to the science field. This is to help avoid image obscuration and any harmful thermal background.

NEWFIRM was a facility instrument on the Nicholas U. Mayall 4-meter Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) during 2006–2010 and 2012–2016, and the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) during 2010–2011. Since 2023, the instrument has returned to CTIO on the Blanco Telescope.

NEWFIRM is designed to be a major force in support of multimessenger astronomy and of Vera C. Rubin Observatory in general, complementing the Dark Energy Camera at the prime focus of the Blanco telescope. Specifically, NEWFIRM will be able to search directly for near-infrared counterparts to gravitational wave events.

Three-dimensional rendering of the NEWFIRM instrument design

Science Highlights of NEWFIRM

Quick Facts

  • Moving an instrument between locations necessitates the securing of funds, as well as several months of testing and preparation before the science begins — for NEWFIRM’s 2022 move, funds were secured by NSF.

  • Because NEWFIRM’s survey mode will result in a large volume of data, it is built with a high degree of automation




Cerro Tololo


Blanco 4m


NIR Imager

Wavelength range

1.0–2.4 μm

Spatial resolution:

0.4” pixel-1

Number of detectors


Detector format

2048 × 2048

Detector total size 

4096 × 4096

Spectral resolution:


Field of view

28′ × 28′


JHKs + narrow band

Date of first light


Science Goals

Support for multimessenger astronomy and Vera C. Rubin Observatory in general, complementing the Dark Energy Camera at the prime focus of the Blanco telescope. 

Search directly for near-infrared counterparts to gravitational wave events.

Images taken with the instrument


Images of the instrument


Videos of the Instrument


Press releases with the instrument