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Gemini Observatory Names Southwest Research Institute as OCTOCAM Contractor

Photonics.com
Apr 2017
SAN ANTONIO, Texas, April 20, 2017 — The Gemini Observatory, an international observatory partnership, has named the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) as its prime contractor to develop the OCTOCAM, a next-generation astronomical instrument to complement the 8-m Gemini South telescope in Chile.

OCTOCAM will simultaneously observe visible and invisible light spectra almost instantaneously, in tens of milliseconds, to enhance Gemini South observations.
SwRI is the prime contractor overseeing the development of OCTOCAM, an astronomical workhorse housing eight detectors within the refrigerator-sized instrument. Designed to operate in concert with the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, OCTOCAM will simultaneously observe visible and invisible light spectra almost instantaneously, in tens of milliseconds, to enhance Gemini South observations. Courtesy of Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia.

The OCTOCAM is a fast-multichannel imager and spectrograph, providing rapid exposures of high-resolution images and color spectra from UV to IR wavelengths. The instrument is scheduled for delivery and installation in 2022.

"Using eight state-of-the-art detectors, OCTOCAM will simultaneously observe visible and invisible light spectra almost instantaneously, in tens of milliseconds," said Peter Roming, a staff scientist at SwRI who will serve as project manager and co-principal investigator.

SwRI will oversee systems engineering, providing detectors, electronics and software development for the refrigerator-sized, ground-based apparatus. The Institute will also lead the integration and testing of the device.

"It's really exciting to be working on an 8-m class instrument that will be used to observe the whole universe, from the oldest stars to nearby exoplanets," Roming said. "The imaging, spectral analysis and temporal resolution combined with exceptional sensitivity make OCTOCAM a unique, unparalleled instrument."

The OCTOCAM is designed to operate in concert with the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). The camera is designed to meet a range of research needs but will be optimized to study highly energetic, very distant events such as gamma-ray bursts and supernovae. The temporal resolution of the instrument will allow scientists to observe the explosive death of stars or the formation of black holes. When installed on the Gemini South telescope in Chile, OCTOCAM will help LSST classify and study some of the thousands of transient events discovered every night.

The integrated system will be particularly useful in observing the formation and evolution of stars. OCTOCAM may also be used to identify and characterize exoplanets and to study the interiors of stars using stellar oscillation analyses. It will also help researchers study the chemical evolution of galaxies and trace the history of the solar system by observing trans-Neptunian objects.

"As we come to understand how stars live and die, we will come to understand how planets come to be," said Roming. "OCTOCAM will also help determine if we are alone — if our Earth is unique or if earthlike planets are commonplace in the universe."

SwRI is an independent, non-profit applied R&D organization focused on the creation and transfer of technology in engineering and the physical sciences. The Gemini Observatory is operated by a partnership of seven countries including the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Brazil, Australia, Argentina and Chile. The observatory is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc., under a cooperative agreement with the U.S. National Science Foundation.

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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