Astronomers from the University of
Hawaii (UH), Institute for Astronomy (IfA) today released
the first image from a gigantic new 16 Megapixel infrared
camera recently mounted on the UH 2.2-meter (88-inch)
Telescope on Mauna Kea. The new camera provides a
sixteen-fold increase in sky coverage together with much
higher sensitivity than the 1-Megapixel cameras in
widespread use on telescopes for the last decade.
Until larger telescopes have similar cameras, it makes
the 30-year-old UH 2.2-meter telescope the most powerful
in the world for infrared imaging.

The development of this new technology has been driven
by the requirements of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope
(JWST), the next step beyond the Hubble Space Telescope
and planned for launch within ten years. This 6 meter
class space telescope with six times the collecting area
of Hubble will be launched into an orbit far beyond the
moon where it will cool to temperatures of -400 degrees
Farenheit, allowing extremely sensitive infrared
observations. NASA has selected the UH/RSC detector
technology for the camera on JWST and is expected to
adopt it for several other instruments.

Funded by a nearly $7 million award from NASA Ames
Research Center, a team at the IfA Hilo facility headed
up by Dr. Don Hall, former IfA director, has partnered
with the Rockwell Scientific Company in Camarillo, CA,
in a four year program to develop 4 Megapixel chips
utilizing new infrared detector materials and state-of-
the-art silicon chips which, at a size of nearly 2″ x 2″,
are some of the largest ever produced. In partnership
with GL Scientific, a Honolulu small business, the team
has innovated a new approach to mounting the individual
4 Megapixel chips so that four of them can be “tiled”
into a 16 Megapixel camera. This approach allows for
even larger “mosaic” cameras in the future.

Hall emphasized that the project was run from Hilo.
“The IfA team provided technical direction of both
the development effort at Rockwell Scientific and
the silicon chip fabrication at the UMC foundry in
Taiwan,” he said. “In addition, we have established
in Hilo a facility to test these new detectors that
is widely regarded as the best available”. Hall also
commented “complex instruments like this camera
usually require extensive de-bugging once they are
mounted at the telescope. It is a tribute to the
technical excellence of the IfA staff and the superb
equipment at the IfA facility that this camera produced
science data on its first night”.

The galaxy imaged, NGC 891, is in the constellation
Andromeda at a distance of about 10 million light years.
It is of particular scientific interest because it is
very similar to our own Milky Way Galaxy but is seen
almost exactly edge-on. Dr. Richard Wainscoat and
Peter Capak, who are analyzing the image, emphasized the
importance of being able to image the entire galaxy in a
single exposure with the new camera. “With smaller
cameras, galaxies such as NGC 891 had to be imaged in
small postage stamp sized pieces that had to be
painstakingly pieced together – the new camera produces a
better image in a tiny fraction of the time,” Wainscoat
said. “By allowing us to image very large areas of the
sky, this camera will allow us to detect some of the most
distant galaxies in the Universe”.

Along with the JWST, large ground based telescopes are
already racing to take advantage of this new technology.
On Mauna Kea, both the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope and
the Gemini Telescopes are forging ahead with 16 Megapixel
infrared cameras and Rockwell Scientific has orders for
several other cameras for telescopes in Chile.

IfA Director Dr. Rolf Kudritzki said “This project is an
excellent example of IfA’s nurturing of extremely high-tech
projects in its Hilo facility and there is an institutional
commitment to continued support of such activities. It is
particularly gratifying that a number of the key personnel
on this project grew up in Hilo and were recruited back
from the Mainland and that several others were recruited
directly as graduates of UH Hilo. The project also
provided important training for undergraduate assistants
from UH Hilo, many of whom have gone on to positions in
related fields”.

The Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii
conducts research into galaxies, cosmology, stars,
planets, and the Sun. Its faculty and staff are also
involved in astronomy education, deep space missions,
and in the development and management of the
observatories on Haleakala and Mauna Kea. Refer to for more information about
the Institute.

Images and relevant links are available at: