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Andor Camera Helps Astronomers Find Planets

Photonics.com
Sep 2006
BELFAST, Northern Ireland, Sept. 26, 2006 -- Digital camera maker Andor Technology has played a central role in some exciting new discoveries in the world of astronomy. A team of UK, French and Swiss astronomers, including staff from Queen's University Belfast (QUB), Northern Ireland, announced this week the discovery of two new Jupiter-sized planets around stars in the constellations of Andromeda and Delphinus.
transit.jpg
Artist’s impression of a ‘hot Jupiter’ during transit. (Copyright Mark A. Garlick/markgarlick.com)

These planets are the first to be found during the UK-led SuperWASP (Wide-Angle Search for Planets) program. Using wide-angle camera lenses backed by several Andor iKon L large-area CCD cameras (DW436 NBV) -- each housing a vacuum-sealed, TE-cooled E2V 42-40 sensor with 2K x 2K pixels -- the SuperWASP team has been repeatedly surveying several million stars over vast swathes of the sky, looking for the tiny dips in the starlight caused when a planet passes in front of its star. This process is known as a transit.

SuperWASP is the UK's leading extra-solar planet detection program comprising of a consortium of eight academic institutions, which include Cambridge University, the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias (Spain), the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes at Los Muchachos Observatory (La Palma, Spain), Keele University, Leicester University, the Open University, Queen's University Belfast and St. Andrew's University. It is expected that SuperWASP will revolutionize our understanding of planet formation, paving the way for future space missions searching for Earth-like worlds, according to the SuperWASP Web site.

SuperWASP consists of two robotic observatories. The first, SuperWASP-North, is located on the island of La Palma among the Isaac Newton Group of telescopes (ING). The second, SuperWASP-South, is located at the site of the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO), just outside Sutherland, South Africa. The observatories are identical and consist of eight wide-angle cameras that simultaneously monitor the sky for planetary transit events. A transit occurs when a planet passes in front of its parent star temporarily blocking some of the light from it. By continuously imaging the sky, SuperWASP can detect these changes in brightness and infer the presence of a planet.

SuperWASP project scientist Don Pollacco, a professor at QUB's School of Mathematics and Physics, said, "The system we now have is particularly powerful. We are very happy with our cameras, and they enable SuperWASP to find candidate planets and determine their radii." Pollacco also leads the SuperWASP team at QUB, which includes professors Francis Keenan and Alan Fitzsimmons, as well as Rachel Street, Damian Christian and Robert Ryans.

Andor's marketing manager, Mark Donaghy, said, "We have worked with Dr. Pollacco and his team over the last few years developing these cameras. These systems are extremely wide-field: 2000 times greater than a conventional telescope. The cameras continuously photograph the night sky, each camera capable of up to 50,000 stars per image."

The planets themselves, known as WASP-1b and WASP-2b, are a type known as "hot Jupiters." They are both giant gas planets -- like Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system -- but they are much closer to their parent stars.

The SuperWASP team is planning follow-up observations of the two new planetary systems with the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope in order to measure more accurately the sizes and temperatures of the planets, and to look for indications of any other planets in these systems. SuperWASP is expected to find dozens more transiting planets over the next few years.

Andor Technology makes a variety of high-performance digital cameras and associated products used for the measurement of light for applications including drug discovery, toxicology analysis, medical diagnosis, food quality testing and defense. Based in Belfast,with offices in South Windsor, Conn., and in Tokyo, it was founded in 1999 as a spinoff of QUB.

For more information, visit: www.andor.com


GLOSSARY
astronomy
The scientific observation of celestial radiation that has reached the vicinity of Earth, and the interpretation of these observations to determine the characteristics of the extraterrestrial bodies and phenomena that have emitted the radiation.
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