Cool camera with a focus on space

A giant camera is on its way from the UK to the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) on a mountain in Hawaii, where it will help seek out origins of galaxies, stars and planets.

The Royal Observatory Edinburgh led the seven-year project to develop SCUBA-2 (sub-millimetre common-user bolometer array) alongside Edinburgh and Cardiff universities, and US and Canadian research partners.

SCUBA-2 will detect sub-millimetre radiation emitted by space dust, associated with the earliest phases of the formation of galactic objects.

To sense the dust, which is around -200ºC, the detectors inside the camera are cooled to within a tenth of a degree above absolute zero.

Cardiff helped design the cooling system, as the detectors need to be cooled to very low temperatures to prevent noise from the superconducting technologies. Edinburgh’s Scottish Microelectronics Centre built the structures on which the detectors sit.

The entire side of the JCMT was rebuilt to accommodate SCUBA-2, where it will sit at an awkward angle and intercept the light focused through the telescope, said project leader, Dr Wayne Holland. ‘The light will be refocused on the camera element within the instrument,’ he added.

SCUBA-2 will arrive in Hawaii in mid-March and make its first observations in the summer.

SCUBA-2 will sit at an awkward angle on the JCMT and intercept focussed light