Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Edinburgh astronomers deliver 'origins' camera

25.02.2008
Today (21 February 2008) the Science and Technology Facility Council’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh shipped its biggest and most complex ever instrument. The giant camera known as SCUBA-2 will be transported to the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) on top of a 14,000 foot mountain in Hawaii where it is expected to make major discoveries related to the origins of galaxies, stars and planets.

Rather than detecting visible light, SCUBA-2 will detect submillimetre radiation, which is sensitive to the heat emitted by extremely cold dust in the Universe. This material is associated with the mysterious earliest phases of the formation of galaxies, stars and planets, hitherto largely undetectable. Typically the dust is at temperatures of about -200 Celsius and so detecting its extremely weak emissions presents a huge technological challenge.

Dr Wayne Holland, the project leader at the UK ATC said "Submillimetre astronomy is a relatively new science and one where the UK has led the world over the past two decades. Our latest camera is the most powerful yet: SCUBA-2 on the JCMT should detect the equivalent of the heat from a candle on the surface of the Moon."

New technologies

In order to detect such low levels of heat, the detectors inside the camera must be as sensitive as possible. To achieve this they must be cooled to within a tenth of a degree above absolute zero (or about -273 Celsius). This is a huge technical challenge and to prevent the detectors being swamped by heat from the camera itself, the internal optics of the camera must also be cooled. As a result, the complete camera is the size of a family car and weighs about 4 tons.

The superconducting detectors are the most sensitive thermal detectors ever built. Their design and construction was the result of a highly successful collaboration with the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado, and the Scottish Microelectronics Centre of the University of Edinburgh.

Professor Ian Robson, Director of the UK ATC, said "SCUBA-2 is an incredible achievement; it is almost certainly one of the most complex projects that UK astronomers have ever attempted but it is also a project that is expected to produce amazing results. After seven years of construction in Edinburgh, the world's most powerful submillimetre camera by a huge margin is poised to open up a new frontier in astronomical research."

The cold Universe

One of the most exciting discoveries in astronomy over the past decade was made by SCUBA, the predecessor to SCUBA-2. Astronomers were surprised to detect a population of distant galaxies completely enshrouded in dust that had never been seen before. These galaxies are usually invisible to telescopes that detect visible light and can only be seen using submillimetre telescopes. They are known as primeval galaxies because they represent some of the earliest structures observable in the universe. Over it’s 8-year lifetime SCUBA was able to produce images of only a hundred or so of these galaxies with each one taking several nights of valuable telescope time. In contrast SCUBA-2 is expected to be able to pinpoint and image many hundreds of these in a single night.

Professor John Peacock, head of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh, is excited about the prospect of using the new camera, "Earlier submillimetre cameras such as SCUBA have taught us that galaxies like the Milky May formed most of their stars in an early dust-rich episode that we can't study with visible light. SCUBA-2 will let us find thousands of galaxies in the earliest act of assembly, and study them in detail. It will be like moving from black-and-white film to 10-megapixel digital cameras. Astronomers can't wait for this wonderful machine to start producing results."

Professor Gary Davis, Director of the JCMT, said "We at the telescope are anxiously awaiting the arrival of this new camera. I expect it to revolutionise submillimetre astronomy, just as its predecessor SCUBA did. The JCMT's user community in the UK, Canada and the Netherlands has designed a joint, comprehensive Legacy Survey based on the enormous promise of this instrument, and we can't wait to get started."

Signposts to planetary systems

Closer to home SCUBA-2 will survey giant molecular clouds, where stars are currently being born and, intriguingly, it will search for the imprints of planetary systems on the cold dusty debris found around many nearby stars. This will entail observing around 500 stars and searching for the tell-tale signs that that planetary systems exist. "One of the most exciting things SCUBA-2 will do is to probe regions similar in size to our own Solar System around nearby stars", Dr Holland says. "This will tell us if there are other such systems out there and whether our Solar System is unique".

Atlas of the sky

For astronomical instruments pixel count is all important, particularly if you want to survey large areas of sky. Containing over 10,000 pixels SCUBA-2 will push back the boundaries of technology much further than has ever been done before. Professor Robson says "The closest rival camera has only a few hundred pixels. SCUBA-2 will survey the sky 1000 times faster than any other instrument out there, with the exciting prospect of producing the first detailed map of the sky - a true atlas of the cold universe".

SCUBA-2 is a multi-million pound instrument. It has taken seven years to build and has been the result of a hugely successful collaboration between the UK ATC, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (Boulder, US), the University of Edinburgh, Cardiff University, the Joint Astronomy Centre, Hawaii, and a consortium of Canadian universities, including the Universities of Waterloo and British Columbia.

SCUBA-2 will arrive in Hawaii in mid-March and will begin initial science operations in the summer.

Eleanor Gilchrist | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.roe.ac.uk

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Computer model predicts how fracturing metallic glass releases energy at the atomic level
20.07.2018 | American Institute of Physics

nachricht What happens when we heat the atomic lattice of a magnet all of a sudden?
18.07.2018 | Forschungsverbund Berlin

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Detecting damage in non-magnetic steel with the help of magnetism

23.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

Researchers move closer to completely optical artificial neural network

23.07.2018 | Information Technology

Enabling technology in cell-based therapies: Scale-up, scale-out or program in-place

23.07.2018 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>