Scientists to unveil world's coolest camera

A camera that has helped scientists discover new planets will soon to retire to make way for its state-of- the-art successor worth £13million.

The original SCUBA camera – an astronomical device – has already changed man's understanding of how planets, stars and galaxies were formed by snapping our skies over the last decade.

But this month, experts at the Royal Observatory’s technology centre in London will start testing SCUBA-2 – a camera that will take pictures at 0.1 degrees above Absolute Zero – around minus 273°C.

The device is being hailed as “groundbreaking” for its unique ability to perform at the coldest temperatures scientifically possible over long periods of time.

In the trials, scheduled for October 20, it will remain at minus 273°C for fifty days, meaning the laboratory will become home to the coldest spot anywhere on the Earth.

The hope is SCUBA-2 will then be shipped to Hawaii, where, like its predecessor, it will take pictures through the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope near the peak of the 4,200 metre high summit of Mauna Kea.

Experts at the Astronomy Technology Centre (ATC), have said the camera has ‘extended capabilities’ over its predecessor, such as enhanced image fidelity and dynamic range.

It will also offer unprecedented mapping speed - about 100 faster than the SCUBA - with an 8-arcmin diameter field-of-view, which promises to boost scientific productivity.

“New kinds of targets and surveys that are currently infeasible with SCUBA will become easily observable with the introduction of SCUBA-2,” the ATC said in a statement.

SCUBA-2 has been designed over six years with £13million in funding, some of it from the government, and some from the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

The ATC explained the camera’s features: “Because of the instantaneous image-sampling we expect considerable improvements in sky-noise suppression, image fidelity and map dynamic range. These will be particularly evident at the shorter submillimetre wavelengths, which have been relatively poorly explored with SCUBA.”

In an online assessment of the SCUBA-2, they added: “With a much larger field-of-view and sky-background limited sensitivity, SCUBA 2 will map large areas of sky up to 1000 times faster than the current SCUBA camera.

“All areas of astronomy will benefit, from studies of our Solar System and surveys of protostellar complexes in the Milky Way, to answering key questions about the formation and evolution of galaxies in the early Universe.”


13th October 2006

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