Revolutionary camera captures images of space in unprecedented detail

3 April 2018


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.

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."

Last updated: 03 April 2018

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