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As shown in Figure 1, despite advances that are now well established in near and mid-infrared detectors systems, ground based astronomy remains primarily an optical scientific endeavor. One is tempted to claim this is cost related, since optical detectors generally remain significantly cheaper per pixel than their infrared counterparts. However, this would be an over simplification of a fairly complex situation involving cost, the availability of instruments to conduct research, and even sociology. Large format near-infrared detectors, which to first order "behave" like CCDs from the perspective of scientists, have been available for more than a decade and while there is undoubtedly a trend to migrate into the 1-2.5 ^m regime from the optical, that migration has been fairly slow. Ultimately, this is probably due to both historical trends and the availability of instruments on the numerous small telescopes that are used for graduate-level research.

Figure 1. An overview of optical, near and mid-infrared instruments, both current and planned, is shown.

Generations of astronomers remain today that only knew optical detector systems (including photographic plates) when they became grounded in a

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Figure 1. An overview of optical, near and mid-infrared instruments, both current and planned, is shown.

Optical

Optical particular branch of astronomy, and they have remain focused on the same type of research over the years, only branching out into other wavelength regimes recently and in some cases reluctantly. More recently, many astronomers within the past couple of decades have trained on relatively small telescopes with equally small budgets that could not afford to invest in the advanced infrared detector systems, custom array controllers, cryogenic opto-mechanical systems, etc. These are required to enter the infrared "business". This trend is declining as more major facilities open the infrared windows to astronomers. Furthermore, expertise on the part of the astronomer needed to operate these often more complex instruments (involving such techniques as chopping and special processing steps) are increasingly provided by dedicated staff astronomers. This allows the research astronomer to focus on the scientific interpretation of data, rather than the subtleties of acquiring it.

Taken at face value, Figure 1 suggests that detector manufacturers should not seriously pursue infrared (particularly mid-IR) detector development, given the demonstrated low market share of this technology. This would be a mistake though, since it does not factor in future research trends in astronomy. Larger telescopes are now enabling observations to ever more distant targets that were simply unreachable by previous generation (4 m and smaller) telescopes. Of course these more distant targets are increasingly redshifted due to the expansion of the universe, and many of them are redshifted out of the optical and into the near-infrared, which in turn triggers the need to switch to the small family of near-infrared detectors available today. This is an indisputable trend - research in cosmology will inevitably push back to find the first luminous objects in the universe, which can only be seen in the infrared thanks to their enormous distances and redshifts.

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