University of Florida astronomers begin testing of CanariCam infrared astronomical camera

July 15, 2011
A spectroscopic and polarimetric IR camera developed at the University of Florida has been installed, and is now being tested, at the Gran Telescopio Canarias.

La Palma, Canary Islands--A spectroscopic and polarimetric IR camera developed at the University of Florida has been installed, and is now being tested, at the Gran Telescopio Canarias (Grantecan), which, with a 10.4 m mirror, is the world's largest IR telescope. The camera, called CanariCam, will be used to find exoplanets and study the massive black holes that exist at the centers of many galaxies.

Detector array cooled to 12 K
CanariCam operates in the 7.5 to 25 micron wavelength range and has three curved and five flat mirrors, along with a stepper-motor-controlled turret containing four blazed gratings (two low-resolution and two high-resolution) for spectroscopy. The camera can also operate in a polarimetry mode across the 10-micron atmospheric window, delivering dual-beam polarimetry using a half-wave retarder and a Wollaston prism. One of two coronographic spots on a zinc selenide substrate is used to block light from a bright object being observed. CanariCam's 320 x 240 pixel IR photodetector array is cryogenically cooled to 12 K and operates at a 500 Hz frame rate.

The commissioning of CanariCam began in late June of this year at Grantecan, located at an altitude of 2267 m on the island of La Palma.

Created by a team of astronomers and engineers led by University of Florida astronomy professor Charles Telesco, CanariCam cost $3.2 million and was financed by the Spanish government. Its IR capabilities will allow researchers to see through obscuring interstellar dust.

"Any frontline research instrument is one of a kind," says Telesco. "In order to be at the forefront of science, you can't do what others have done already. You must incorporate the newest materials and technologies and push them further than anybody has done before."

More than 50% of the capabilities of CanariCam have been fully tested on the telescope and should be finished next month. It will then be ready for use by the general scientific community starting in March 2012. The University of Florida is a 5% partner in the Grantecan telescope and has access to the telescope for its own projects.

"Currently there are only three infrared instruments installed on 8 m to 10 m class telescopes in the world," notes Telesco. "The unique specifications of CanariCam, combined with the mighty 10.4 m mirror of the GTC, will be a cutting-edge scientific tool."

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About the Author

John Wallace | Senior Technical Editor (1998-2022)

John Wallace was with Laser Focus World for nearly 25 years, retiring in late June 2022. He obtained a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and physics at Rutgers University and a master's in optical engineering at the University of Rochester. Before becoming an editor, John worked as an engineer at RCA, Exxon, Eastman Kodak, and GCA Corporation.

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