MUSE is the greatest ground-based instrument ever built

MUSE. It looks like an espresso machine from hell, right? Credit: R. Bacon & the MUSE consortium

MUSE. It looks like an espresso machine from hell, right?
Credit: R. Bacon & the MUSE consortium

MUSE, the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer, is my favorite instrument.

This steam-punk fever dream barely fits on the Nasmyth B platform of Yepun, (UT4 on ESO's Very Large Telescope). 

I was involved in commissioning and science verification of the instrument, so I'm not totally unbiased. But the data are absolutely stunning, and I think you'll agree. 

 

MUSE mounted on the Nasmyth Platform of the Very Large Telescope's Unit Telescope 4. 

MUSE mounted on the Nasmyth Platform of the Very Large Telescope's Unit Telescope 4. 

For my non-astronomer friends, all you need to know is that MUSE is a special type of instrument called an Integral Field Unit (IFU) spectrograph.

It effectively takes an image of the sky, but every pixel in that image is also a spectrum. It's three dimensional data (recording two of space and one of wavelength), enabling one to map the kinematics of stars and gas in a galaxy, obtain spatially resolved spectral diagnostic maps, etc. 
 

For my astronomer friends, you need only know two things: 

  • It is the highest throughput spectrograph on the mountain, beating even our slit spectrographs like UVES and X-shooter. That's ... astonishing.
     
  • It has a one-by-one arcminute field of view with subarcsecond spatial resolution (initially seeing- limited)
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Yes.

That should blow your mind. 

Here's how MUSE works, by the way. 

I want to quickly show off one of the early science verification observations we obtained. In what would have taken more than fifty pointings with, e.g., GMOS on Gemini, we mapped the northern filaments in Centaurus A in about fifteen minutes with only two pointings. 

Here's what we found. 

H-alpha + [N II] velocity structure in the northern filaments of Centaurus A. The image is about 2 kpc on a side. Even with the seeing limit (~0.8''), we achieve a physical resolution of about 40 pc. 

H-alpha + [N II] velocity structure in the northern filaments of Centaurus A. The image is about 2 kpc on a side. Even with the seeing limit (~0.8''), we achieve a physical resolution of about 40 pc. 

Gorgeous, right? 

These data are published in Santoro et al. (2015) and Hamer et al. (2015)

Also, friends in the US: YES. You can propose for MUSE, and VLT time in general. There's a huge misconception that ESO time requires a European PI, and it's simply not true. A proposal consisting of mostly US investigators isn't even necessarily less competitive on the TAC, outside of rare edge-cases. So, propose for MUSE (and/but: good luck with that ten-to-one oversubscription. ;)  

The MUSE story goes back more than a decade. Hear about it below, from MUSE PI Roland Bacon (U. Lyon).  


Shameless Plug time! 

Check out the Close AGN Reference Survey (CARS), our pan-chromatic survey of nearby Type 1 AGN anchored by MUSE observations. 

The PI is my buddy Bernd Husemann, the data are freaking amazing, and the science is loads of fun. Here's a recent press release

Mrk 1044, one of the two galaxies for which the CARS team was recently awarded Chandra time in Cycle 17 (2016). Shown at left is a Hubble Space Telescope WFC3/UVIS composite. A preview of the spectacular CARS MUSE data for this source is shown in the inset.  

Mrk 1044, one of the two galaxies for which the CARS team was recently awarded Chandra time in Cycle 17 (2016). Shown at left is a Hubble Space Telescope WFC3/UVIS composite. A preview of the spectacular CARS MUSE data for this source is shown in the inset.  

Grant Tremblay

Dr. Grant Tremblay is an Astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics