MAVIS gets busy!

By Richard McDermid
[email protected]

The Australian-led international consortium building the MAVIS (Multi-conjugate adaptive optics Assisted Visible Imager and Spectrograph) instrument for ESO gathered together recently for a project ‘Busy Week’ – five days of intensive activity and interaction to progress on key aspects of the project. MAVIS combines a state-of-the-art adaptive optics system with imaging and integral-field spectroscopic science instruments, uniquely working at visible wavelengths and over large portions of the sky. MAVIS is a technically challenging instrument, aimed at extracting the full potential of the unique ‘Adaptive Optics Facility’ operating on ESO’s VLT at the Paranal Observatory in Chile – itself an impressive achievement, making use of four powerful lasers to measure distortions in the Earth’s atmosphere more than a thousand times per second, and driving a corrective flexible (‘deformable’) mirror more than 1 metre in diameter, but just 2mm thick! To this formidable telescope system, MAVIS adds two additional smaller deformable mirrors, allowing it to refine the correction of atmospheric distortions over a wide field of view, and deliver a near-perfect view of the night sky to the MAVIS science instruments.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges for bringing together the European and Australian halves of the MAVIS team, but has also created new ways of collaborating. With major hubs in Italy (at Padova and Arcetri Observatories) and at Siding Spring Observatory (below), the MAVIS team were able to operate collectively around the clock, working locally during their respective daytimes, and connecting via video-link during the Australian evening / European morning to coordinate efforts across the continents. Much progress was made towards the important milestone of ‘Preliminary Design Review’ scheduled towards the end of this year, which involves providing a detailed set of ‘blueprints’ for how MAVIS will be designed and built over the next 5 years, and how it will be used by astronomers when it comes online after installation in 2027.

MAVIS team inside

For the Australian team, the Busy Week was also a chance to get together in person for five days of intensive MAVIS work, with most of the ANU and Macquarie University members eating, sleeping and working on-site at the comfortable Siding Spring Observatory lodge, situated in the beautiful Warrumbungles National Park. Team members also had the chance for some ’behind the scenes’ tours of some of the Observatory’s telescopes – many thanks to the Siding Spring staff for facilitating those! All in all, it was a highly productive meeting, and MAVIS is well on-track for a successful completion of the current detailed design phase later this year.

MAVIS team outside


Michael Murphy is the Australian representative on the ESO Science Technical Committee. Contact: [email protected]

Sarah Sweet is the Australian representative on the ESO Users Committee. Contact: [email protected]

Stuart Ryder is a Program Manager with AAL. Contact: [email protected]

Guest posts are also welcome – please submit these to [email protected]