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SCUBA-2 camera to explore the early life of distant stars

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A worldwide consortium of scientists have created the SCUBA-2, a new submillimeter astronomy camera that can detect cold radiation from the ancient galaxies of the universe.

SCUBA-2 camera image
SCUBA-2 camera image

A worldwide consortium of scientists have created the SCUBA-2, a new "submillimeter" astronomy camera that will allow researchers to explore the young galaxy more quickly than ever before. So what's submillimeter radiation, you ask? As Professor Gary Davis explains, the galaxy contains a huge amount of cold dust that absorbs visible light and then reemits it at longer, submillimeter wavelengths — problem is, the emissions are invisible to telescopes that pick up visible light. To detect the frigid radiation the camera has to also be quite cold, and its detectors are cooled at 0.1 degree above absolute zero. That's colder than anything in the known universe.

The original SCUBA also detects submillimeter radiation, but it's far less efficient. What took twenty nights to image an area the size of the full moon with the original camera will only take SCUBA-2 a couple of hours, and the newer model can go much deeper in order to view faint objects that haven't been seen before. The developers claim that the new detector arrays represent a huge scientific achievement; one that's equivalent to going from a primitive wind-on film camera straight to a modern digital camera in one step.

The camera is currently housed at the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) in Hawaii, where it maps star and planet formations, surveys neighboring galaxies, and looks deep into space to survey the youngest galaxies in the universe in order to understand how they've evolved since the Big Bang. Not too shabby for a quaint species floating through the western spiral arm of the galaxy on a pale blue dot.