January 31st 2014 was yet another cold, crisp and very dark night at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) facilities on Paranal, Chile. But unlike most other nights, the deep silence was broken by the cheerful sound of clinking glasses filled with champagne. The members of the MUSE consortium who were present on the site were celebrating the first light image produced by the MUSE spectrograph, which had been mounted on the VLT telescope just a few months back.
The MUSE is a cutting edge astronomical instrument that combines an imager and a spectrograph. Its unmatched characteristics are due to its capability to deliver large field-of-view images with very good pixel resolution while at the same time provide high-resolution spectral information for each of these pixels. The unique technical specifications of MUSE will allow astronomers to observe the skies better and answer many intriguing questions about the processes of galaxy formation, how the surrounding environment influences these processes, what is the origin of super-massive black holes like the one residing in the center of our own galaxy, and many more.
The MUSE instrument was perceived and build by a consortium of several European institutes from France, the Netherlands and Germany. Target works in close collaboration with the Leibnitz-Institute für Astrophysik Potsdam (AIP) to develop the entire data handling system for the MUSE. The data model developed by the group at AIP is implemented by the Target group into a flexible and robust information system, called MUSE-WISE. The MUSE-WISE will manage, archive and provide access to both raw and processed data from the instrument. It is built on the principles of the Astro-WISE information system developed by the Target partner, OmegaCEN for the management of massive data from multiple optical telescopes around the world. These principles, which include scalability, strong data lineage, and a data-centric approach to processing and archiving lie also at the heart of the successful technologies being developed by Target , many of which are currently applied to data-intensive projects in a variety of disciplines from medical research, to cultural heritage to sustainable energy.
For its first light image, the MUSE team decided to observe the Kapteyn star, named after the Dutch astronomer Jacobus Kapteyn who discovered it in 1898. It’s not a very interesting star but it happens to be located 13 light years away from us. So it took 13 year for the photons from the Kapteyn star to travel through the interstellar space and hit the MUSE detectors. And it was 13 years ago when several enthusiastic astronomers decided to answer ESO’s call for second generation instruments on the VLT. It took 13 years of hard work to transform that idea from a string of words on a proposal form to a cutting-edge instrument like MUSE. Housed at the Kapteyn Institute in Groningen, named after the same astronomer, the Target staff continues to work hard to maintain and improve the MUSE-WISE system so that the stings of bits from MUSE can ultimately deliver new knowledge about our Universe.
MUSE official website: http://muse.univ-lyon1.fr/
ESO’s webpage on MUSE: http://www.eso.org/sci/facilities/develop/instruments/muse.html
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