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The year 2000 started on the island of La Palma as in most other
places in the world with magnificent fireworks. The main ‘fireworks’ of the
year at the Isaac Newton Group were the commissioning of our new IR camera
and the first phase of the technical commissioning of the adaptive optics
system. Both these developments took place at the 4.2-m William Herschel
Telescope, showing clearly where the focus of ING’s efforts lies.
The state-of-the-art infra-red camera, INGRID, is based around a
1024 by 1024 pixel HgCdTl Hawaii array from Rockwell. Its relatively large
4 arc-minute field of view has proven to be an important attraction for many
astronomers rendering this instrument the second most popular instrument
at the telescope.
The second big event at the William Herschel Telescope was the technical
commissioning of a common-user adaptive optics system. Adaptive Optics (AO)
is central to the development plans of the telescope. Adaptive optics experience
at the ING is still limited, but we’re learning fast. The often excellent
seeing conditions combined with the quality of the telescope open up exciting
new scientific prospects, in particular once the AO-corrected focus can be
exploited with state-of-the-art instruments. Adaptive optics is often seen
as the playing ground for the 8-m class telescopes but there are very good
reasons to exploit AO also on medium size telescopes. Above all, there are
important scientific gains to be achieved with the much better spatial sampling
offered by Adaptive Optics. Laser guide star deployment will open AO techniques
to many fields of astronomy. It is becoming ever clearer that adaptive optics
will become an integral part of the future large telescopes, which is another
reason why the astronomical community must invest time and effort in this
field. The 4-m class telescopes are the ideal proving ground for AO techniques.
In recent years ING has actively pursued building strong relationships
with universities. This initiative has been successful in itself and the
positive effects are clearly sensed on La Palma. Stronger emphasis at the
ING on in-house research activities lies at the heart of this as it underpins
collaborations with universities such as the scheme of placement students
that has been adopted. All in all, a very positive enterprise.
Also during the year talks have progressed very well on a formal
participation of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias in the ING.
This development emphasizes the key role of the IAC at the observatory on
La Palma. It is anticipated that a formal collaboration will be initiated
During the year 2000 Benn and Sánchez completed their study
on the scientific productivity of telescopes. It compares scientific impact
of many facilities by means of the 1000 top-cited papers published over eight
years during the previous decade. One of the results from this study is that
the William Herschel Telescope belongs to one of the most productive observing
facilities in the world. This not only is a pleasing result for the telescope,
but above all is a tribute to the scientists using this facility. Even though
still sizable, 4-m class telescopes are now considered of medium size. The
study by Benn and Sánchez indicates that these telescopes will remain
important facilities for top quality science for many years to come.