NEWFIRM, a wide-field near IR Imager, was a facility instrument on the Mayall Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) from 2006-2010 and 2012-2016, and on the Blanco Telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) from 2010-2011. With the encouragement of our users and the AAAC subcommittee on the futures of the Gemini, Blanco, and SOAR telescopes, we applied to NSF for supplementary funding to move NEWFIRM back to CTIO and refurbish it (see Currents Oct 2020) that would benefit Multi-Messenger Astronomy (MMA). NEWFIRM also enables a broad range of other science, including exploiting and supporting the science of the Rubin Observatory’s LSST. This proposal was successful and NSF awarded us the supplementary funds to return NEWFIRM to CTIO.
NEWFIRM arrived at Cerro Tololo on October 25, 2021. During November and December the shipping crates were unpacked and major assemblies were mounted on their laboratory carts. Initial tests showed an intact rough vacuum on the dewar, and internal mechanisms were successfully tested with no apparent issues. Also in this period good progress was made with the rewrite of the instrument software and testing of the new detector controller to computer interface card took place.
Near-term activities include more warm mechanism testing, detailed design of the guider upgrade (detectors, software), completion of testing and repair of facility helium lines, continued writing of the instrument software, and preparation for the first off-telescope cool down, scheduled for April 2022. Only then will we be able to test the detectors and the full data system.
Upon the successful completion of cooling NEWFIRM and lab verification, we plan on performing the first NEWFIRM recommissioning run and checkout in August 2022 at the start of the 2022B semester. After the recommissioning schedule is finalized, we will solicit Science Verification (SV) proposals from our user community and select a few to be executed during October-December 2022. Clearly, these dates depend on the performance of the instrument and could easily slip if problems need to be fixed. Updates on the NEWFIRM commissioning schedule can be found on this webpage or by contacting Sean Points.