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NIST Detector Scans the Universe in Hawaiian Telescope Camera SCUBA-2 Script

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On the big island of Hawaii, the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope sits atop Mauna Kea.

The telescope has a new camera, SCUBA-2, which will image gas and dust from young stars, planets and galaxies. SCUBA-2 will map the sky hundreds of times faster and with a much larger field of view than was possible before. The camera was made by an international research team, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

NIST physicist Kent Irwin with SCUBA-2 (the blue instrument about the size of a car). Irwin invented the sensor and amplifier technologies used in the camera.

Silicon wafers, each containing 1,280 sensors. SCUBA-2 relies on this microscale technology to “see” into space. The NIST instrument is made of 8 such wafers containing more than 10,000 superconducting sensors, which pick up faint signals of “submillimeter” radiation, used by SCUBA-2 to compile images.

Each sensor registers tiny amounts of heat from incoming radiation at wavelengths below 1 millimeter, between the microwave and infrared bands.

Each sensor functions as a single pixel in the SCUBA-2 camera. Shown here is a wafer of superconducting amplifiers. A sensor wafer and an amplifier wafer are bonded together so that each sensor pixel is paired with an amplifier.

One pixel from the amplifier wafer.

Sensor array as assembled for SCUBA-2, with four pairs of wafers (blue-green) cut into squares. NIST researchers made larger sensor arrays with fewer defects than ever before.

SCUBA-2 excels at making images of large patches of the sky, stitching together multiple scans to make a panoramic picture. The camera scans the sky in various patterns like this to assemble large images and remove “noise” created by the atmosphere.

The center of the Milky Way galaxy, about 27,000 light years from Earth and 700 light years across, as seen by SCUBA-2. Images are compiled in minutes to hours and false-colored based on intensity of received radiation. SCUBA-2 will help astronomers find objects never seen before, conduct deeper and broader studies, and produce better images and sky maps.

NIST physicists Gene Hilton and Kent Irwin, developers of the NIST sensor and amplifier technologies and fabrication method.

Image Credits:
Telescope, SCUBA-2, and wafers and pixels: Irwin and Hilton/NIST
Sensor array, on-sky image and imaging pattern: James Clerk Maxwell Telescope/Joint Astronomy Centre
Sensor animation: Astronaut 3 Media Group
Irwin and Hilton: Burrus/NIST