Scientific Drivers for ESO Future VLT/VLTI Instrumentation
Date: 02 Oct 2003

The FALCON Concept: Multi-Object Spectroscopy Combined with MCAO in Near-IR

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A large fraction of the present-day stellar mass was formed between z=0.5 and \(z\sim 3\) and our understanding of the formation mechanisms at work at these epochs requires both high spatial and high spectral resolution: one shall simultaneously obtain images of objects with typical sizes as small as 1-2 kpc ( \(\sim 0".1\) ), while achieving 20-50 km/s (R \(\ge\) 5000) spectral resolution. In addition, the redshift range to be considered implies that most important spectral features are redshifted in the near-infrared. The obvious instrumental solution to adopt in order to tackle the science goal is therefore a combination of multi-object 3D spectrograph with multi-conjugate adaptive optics in large fields. A very promising way to achieve such a technically challenging goal is to relax the conditions of the traditional full adaptive optics correction. A partial, but still competitive correction shall be prefered, over a much wider field of view. This can be done by estimating the turbulent volume from sets of natural guide stars, by optimizing the correction to several and discrete small areas of few arcsec 2 selected in a large field (Nasmyth field of 25 arcmin) and by correcting up to the 6th, and eventually, up to the 60 th Zernike modes. Simulations on real extragalactic fields, show that for most sources (> 80%), the recovered resolution could reach 0”.15-0”.25 in the J and H bands. Detection of point-like objects is improved by factors from 3 to \(\ge\) 10, when compared with an instrument without adaptive correction. The proposed instrument concept, FALCON, is equipped with deployable mini-integral field units (IFUs), achieving spectral resolutions between R=5000 and 20000. Its multiplex capability, combined with high spatial and spectral resolution characteristics, is a natural ground based complement to the next generation of space telescopes. Galaxy formation in the early Universe is certainly a main science driver. We describe here how FALCON shall allow to answer puzzling questions in this area, although the science cases naturally accessible to the instrument concept makes it of interest for most areas of astrophysics.