Telescope Instruments: NIRSPEC

Instrument: Near Infrared Spectrometer
Telescope: Keck II
Wavelength: near infrared light
Instrument Scientist: Dr. Greg Doppmann
Description: Cross-dispersed echelle spectrograph used with the Adaptive Optics system to produce high resolution spectra. NIRSPEC uses echelle grating combined with cross-dispersal to divide the light so that its spectral features are spaced out enough to be able to differentiate the various wavelengths and organize them in a readable order.
Unique Feature: NIRSPEC is very sensitive and uniquely designed for high resolution and cross-dispersed coverage at infrared wavelengths. It uses two detectors to monitor in real-time NIRSPEC’s slits, which isolate light from the target of interest so other sources don’t contaminate the target’s spectrum.
Research Specialty: Star formation, planet formation, galactic centers, characteristics of atmospheres in solar system planets, and chemical composition of comets. NIRSPEC also helps analyze potential chemical precursors to the building blocks of life.
Notable Contributions: Upgraded in December 2018, just in time to observe Comet 46P/Wirtanen as it made its historic flyby of Earth.

“It is surreal to be part of NIRSPEC’s search for organic compounds on the disks surrounding stars to determine the possibility of life beyond Earth. NIRSPEC is a triumphant example of achieving an instrument that is an extension of our senses, which can then be used to detect life. Even before joining Keck, I used NIRSPEC as a grad student so I feel honored to now be the primary person involved in its operation.” ~ Dr. Greg Doppmann

Mahalo: Support for this technology was generously provided by the Heising-Simons Foundation.