From STFC: “Revolutionary camera captures images of space in unprecedented detail”


3 April 2018

STFC HiPERCAM mounted on the Gran Telescopio Canarias, at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the island of La Palma, in the Canaries, Spain. Altitude 2,267 meters (7,438 ft)

Gran Telescopio Canarias at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the island of La Palma, in the Canaries, Spain, sited on a volcanic peak 2,267 metres (7,438 ft) above sea level

A new, UK-built camera which can take over 1,000 images per second and will revolutionise our understanding of stars and black holes has now been fitted to the world’s largest optical telescope.

The pioneering HiPERCAM, built at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC), will take high-speed moving images of objects in the Universe, allowing phenomena such as eclipses and explosions to be studied in unprecedented detail.

Data captured by the camera will be taken in five different colours simultaneously, allowing scientists to see the remnants of dead stars – white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes. These are key objects in astrophysics as their extreme gravities, densities and pressures allow researchers to test theories of fundamental physics.

By observing how the brightness of stars change as their planets and objects in our solar system pass across earth’s line of sight, HiPERCAM will also allow astronomers to study planets and asteroids.

The HiPERCAM project is led by Professor Vik Dhillon and his team at the University of Sheffield in partnership with the UK ATC, based in Edinburgh.

Wide-angle view of STFC HiPERCAM mounted on the Gran Telescopio Canarias at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the island of La Palma, in the Canaries, Spain Altitude 2,267 m (7,438 ft)

Investing in ground-breaking science, research and innovation is at the heart of the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy, and Science and Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah, said: “The vital role that STFC and UK Universities played in developing HiPERCAM is a testament to the work of our world class scientists. This game-changing camera that will be installed on the world’s largest telescope will not only deepen our understanding of white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes in our universe, but it will help maintain our reputation as being a global-leader in R&D.

“It is projects such as these, and collaboration with partners and universities from across the world, which underpins our ambitious modern Industrial Strategy to boost innovation and help create a Britain fit for the future.”

The pioneering five-year project was funded by a €3.5million grant from the European Research Council (ERC). The camera has been mounted on the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC) – the world’s largest telescope based on the island of La Palma situated more than 2,500 metres above sea level.

Martin Black, an optical engineer from UK ATC and part of the HiPERCAM team, said: “HiPERCAM was a challenging project that pushed the design team to fit a lot of scientific potential into a small space.

The team had to work closely together to ensure everything fit together and to correctly position the cameras to around 30 microns, about the width of a human hair.”

Professor Dhillon said: “Normal cameras capture one picture a second, HiPERCAM takes 1,000 pictures a second. HiPERCAM provides us with a unique, new view of the Universe, which history tells us is when major new discoveries are made.

Astronomers are excited to start using HiPERCAM on the GTC to start exploring the Universe at high speed.”

See the full article here .

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Helping build a globally competitive, knowledge-based UK economy

We are a world-leading multi-disciplinary science organisation, and our goal is to deliver economic, societal, scientific and international benefits to the UK and its people – and more broadly to the world. Our strength comes from our distinct but interrelated functions:

Universities: we support university-based research, innovation and skills development in astronomy, particle physics, nuclear physics, and space science
Scientific Facilities: we provide access to world-leading, large-scale facilities across a range of physical and life sciences, enabling research, innovation and skills training in these areas
National Campuses: we work with partners to build National Science and Innovation Campuses based around our National Laboratories to promote academic and industrial collaboration and translation of our research to market through direct interaction with industry
Inspiring and Involving: we help ensure a future pipeline of skilled and enthusiastic young people by using the excitement of our sciences to encourage wider take-up of STEM subjects in school and future life (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)

We support an academic community of around 1,700 in particle physics, nuclear physics, and astronomy including space science, who work at more than 50 universities and research institutes in the UK, Europe, Japan and the United States, including a rolling cohort of more than 900 PhD students.

STFC-funded universities produce physics postgraduates with outstanding high-end scientific, analytic and technical skills who on graduation enjoy almost full employment. Roughly half of our PhD students continue in research, sustaining national capability and creating the bedrock of the UK’s scientific excellence. The remainder – much valued for their numerical, problem solving and project management skills – choose equally important industrial, commercial or government careers.

Our large-scale scientific facilities in the UK and Europe are used by more than 3,500 users each year, carrying out more than 2,000 experiments and generating around 900 publications. The facilities provide a range of research techniques using neutrons, muons, lasers and x-rays, and high performance computing and complex analysis of large data sets.

They are used by scientists across a huge variety of science disciplines ranging from the physical and heritage sciences to medicine, biosciences, the environment, energy, and more. These facilities provide a massive productivity boost for UK science, as well as unique capabilities for UK industry.

Our two Campuses are based around our Rutherford Appleton Laboratory at Harwell in Oxfordshire, and our Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire – each of which offers a different cluster of technological expertise that underpins and ties together diverse research fields.

The combination of access to world-class research facilities and scientists, office and laboratory space, business support, and an environment which encourages innovation has proven a compelling combination, attracting start-ups, SMEs and large blue chips such as IBM and Unilever.

We think our science is awesome – and we know students, teachers and parents think so too. That’s why we run an extensive Public Engagement and science communication programme, ranging from loans to schools of Moon Rocks, funding support for academics to inspire more young people, embedding public engagement in our funded grant programme, and running a series of lectures, travelling exhibitions and visits to our sites across the year.

Ninety per cent of physics undergraduates say that they were attracted to the course by our sciences, and applications for physics courses are up – despite an overall decline in university enrolment.