A new and more powerful laser has successfully been tested at the Paranal Observatory and formally accepted. This new laser source, called PARLA, forms a vital part of the VLT Laser Guide Star Facility (LGSF), currently used by the adaptive optics instruments NACO and SINFONI on UT4.
PARLA will greatly improve the reliability and flexibility in operating the LGSF. It uses similar technology to that which will also be employed in the four lasers of the future Adaptive Optics Facility (AOF) currently under development. The new laser delivers up to 7 Watts of output and is very stable.
This upgrade of the laser source takes advantage of a new solid-state Raman fibre laser technology currently under development at ESO, together with industrial partners, for the AOF. PARLA has already demonstrated greater reliability, which makes laser guide star adaptive optics observations possible more often. This facility will allow more programmes to be carried out that require laser guide stars when the atmospheric conditions are suitable.
During the commissioning, and for demonstration purposes, several targets were successfully observed using the new laser in conjunction with different VLT instruments. These included the dwarf planet Haumea and its moons, observed with SINFONI, and the nucleus of Centaurus A with NACO. These observations are available from the ESO Science Archive Facility.
The original PARSEC dye laser saw six years of service, during which it enabled important discoveries, particularly on the Galactic Centre. The upgrade simplifies the laser operation greatly and allows more flexibility in planning observations.