A powerful new ‘luggage-sized’ cryogenic camera has been built in the UK which will take the first pictures of young giant exoplanets.
This state-of-the-art, infra-red, cryogenic camera system has been developed with ground-breaking high-contrast imaging technology to allow astronomers to directly image or ‘take pictures’ of these young giants.
These exoplanets, which orbit stars beyond our own Sun, are even more massive than Jupiter, the biggest planet in our solar system.
The NIX camera system is about the size of an average airline hold bag (about 0.8m x 0.4m x 0.6m). In that small space it packs in the sophisticated capability to image exoplanets with its ground-breaking high-contrast imaging technology.
NIX has been built at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) in Edinburgh and has been provisionally accepted by the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial physics (MPE) which leads the consortia of institutions and partners involved.
Principal Investigator for ERIS, Dr Ric Davies from MPE, says:
Young newly-formed planets are still hot, with temperatures similar to that of a candle flame, about 3-5µm – which is why NIX has been specially designed to image at these wavelengths.
Background thermal radiation, however, becomes a major problem at these wavelengths. All of the different mirrors and optical elements, are ‘glowing’ – essentially giving off light.
Not only that, but direct light from a star can hide its nearby objects, including exoplanets, making it difficult for telescopes and their scientific instruments to see them.
Dr William Taylor, Astronomer and Instrument Scientist at UK ATC describes the technical innovations to counter these challenges:
Professor Gillian Wright, Director, UK ATC adds:
The ERIS instrument is expected to be operational in 2022 at one of the world’s biggest and most advanced optical telescopes – ESO’s VLT, at the Paranal Observatory in Northern Chile.
Source: UK Research and Innovation.
Launched in April 2018, UKRI is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). They bring together the seven disciplinary research councils, Research England, which is responsible for supporting research and knowledge exchange at higher education institutions in England, and the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK. For more details go to: https://www.ukri.org/