During the last decade, the first generation of beam combiners at the Very Large Telescope Interferometer has proved the importance of optical interferometry for high-angular resolution astrophysical studies in the nearand mid-infrared. With the advent of 4-beam combiners at the VLTI, the u - v coverage per pointing increases significantly, providing an opportunity to use reconstructed images as powerful scientific tools. Here, we present our ongoing studies to characterize the imaging capabilities of the Multi-AperTure mid-infrared SpectroScopic Experiment (MATISSE), a second-generation instrument for the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI). By providing simultaneous observations with 6 baselines and spectral resolutions up to R~5000. MATISSE will deliver, for the first time, thermal-IR interferometric data with enough u-v coverage and phase information for imaging. In this work, we report detailed image reconstruction studies carried out with the image reconstruction package SQUEEZE. For our studies, we use realistic simulated MATISSE data from radiative transfer simulations of a proto-planetary disk. In particular, we will discuss the role of the regularization function and of the initial brightness distribution. MATISSE will perform observations at three different mid-infrared bands: L, M and N. Hence, due to its large bandwidth, chromatic effects should be taken into account when image reconstruction is attempted. We also discuss the capabilities of SQUEEZE to perform multi-wavelength image reconstruction. Finally, we perform an analysis of the image quality and present our future line of research. The work here presented is being carried out within the Opticon FP7-2 joint research activity on interferometric imaging.
Image reconstruction in optical interferometry has gained considerable importance for astrophysical studies during the last decade. This has been mainly due to improvements in the imaging capabilities of existing interferometers and the expectation of new facilities in the coming years. However, despite the advances made so far, image synthesis in optical interferometry is still an open field of research. Since 2004, the community has organized a biennial contest to formally test the different methods and algorithms for image reconstruction. In 2016, we celebrated the 7th edition of the "Interferometric Imaging Beauty Contest". This initiative represented an open call to participate in the reconstruction of a selected set of simulated targets with a wavelength-dependent morphology as they could be observed by the 2nd generation of VLTI instruments. This contest represents a unique opportunity to benchmark, in a systematic way, the current advances and limitations in the field, as well as to discuss possible future approaches. In this contribution, we summarize: (a) the rules of the 2016 contest; (b) the different data sets used and the selection procedure; (c) the methods and results obtained by each one of the participants; and (d) the metric used to select the best reconstructed images. Finally, we named Karl-Heinz Hofmann and the group of the Max-Planck-Institut fur Radioastronomie as winners of this edition of the contest.
We present an overview of the VISIR instrument after its upgrade and return to science operations. VISIR is the midinfrared imager and spectrograph at ESO’s VLT. The project team is comprised of ESO staff and members of the original VISIR consortium: CEA Saclay and ASTRON. The project plan was based on input from the ESO user community with the goal of enhancing the scientific performance and efficiency of VISIR by a combination of measures: installation of improved hardware, optimization of instrument operations and software support. The cornerstone of the upgrade is the 1k by 1k Si:As AQUARIUS detector array manufactured by Raytheon. In addition, a new prism spectroscopic mode covers the whole N-band in a single observation. Finally, new scientific capabilities for high resolution and high-contrast imaging are offered by sub-aperture mask and coronagraphic modes. In order to make optimal use of favourable atmospheric conditions, a water vapour monitor has been deployed on Paranal, allowing for real-time decisions and the introduction of a user-defined constraint on water vapour. During the commissioning in 2012, it was found that the on-sky sensitivity of the AQUARIUS detector was significantly below expectations. Extensive testing of the detector arrays in the laboratory and on-sky enabled us to diagnose the cause for the shortcoming of the detector as excess low frequency noise. It is inherent to the design chosen for this detector and cannot be remedied by changing the detector set-up. Since this is a form of correlated noise, its impact can be limited by modulating the scene recorded by the detector. After careful analysis, we have implemented fast (up to 4 Hz) chopping with field stabilization using the secondary mirror of the VLT. During commissioning, the upgraded VISIR has been confirmed to be more sensitive than the old instrument, and in particular for low-resolution spectroscopy in the N-band, a gain of a factor 6 is realized in observing efficiency. After overcoming several additional technical problems, VISIR is back in Science Operations since April 2015. In addition an upgrade of the IT infrastructure related to VISIR has been conducted in order to support burst-mode operations. Science Verification of the new modes was performed in Feb 2016. The upgraded VISIR is a powerful instrument providing close to background limited performance for diffraction-limited observations at an 8-m telescope. It offers synergies with facilities such as ALMA, JWST, VLTI and SOFIA, while a wealth of targets is available from survey works like WISE. In addition, it will bring confirmation of the technical readiness and scientific value of several aspects for future mid-IR instrumentation at Extremely Large Telescopes. We also present several lessons learned during the project.