ABB measuring instrument to revolutionize astronomy

2011-11-28 - A new ABB wide-field imaging spectrometer for one of the world’s leading observatories will enable astronomers to take images and gather data on the universe with a speed, accuracy and depth of detail that no other high-performance instrument provides.

By ABB Communications

The instrument - a wide-field imaging Fourier transform spectrometer – will be fitted to the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) at the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii, where it will analyze and collect data from photons that have been traveling through space for hundreds or even billions of years.

Known as SITELLE* the instrument will combine high-resolution imagery and spectroscopy at levels unmatched by any other astronomical instrument. SITELLE will acquire spectra within images that are between 100 and 1,000 times larger than is possible with conventional spectrographs.

This ability to provide high spectral resolution across a large area of space will provide astronomers with a considerably larger data set and in a fraction of the time currently possible. Estimates suggest that SITELLE will collect the same amount of data in a single night that would require weeks of observation with a conventional instrument – a huge improvement for telescopes, where observation time is a scarce resource and often restricted to a few hours per project.

Computer-generated image of SITELLE
SITELLE will be used to study the structure and kinematics of star formation and evolution in the Earth’s galaxy and in other neighboring and distant galaxies. Measuring approximately 2 meters by 1 meter and weighing around 400 kg, the instrument is expected to lead to major discoveries and be of great benefit to the scientific community.

SITELLE is an upgraded version of an earlier imaging spectrometer – SpIOMM* - that was developed jointly by Canada’s Laval University and ABB with the financial support of many research organizations, including the Canadian Space Agency.

SpIOMM has been mapping nebulae and supernova remnants (the expanding shell of gas and dust that follows the explosion of a large star) since 2004 at the Mont-Mégantic observatory in Canada.

SpIOMM is itself of groundbreaking importance as it currently offers the largest field of view of any integral field spectrograph in operation. Fitted to the more powerful CFHT, SITELLE will be about 20 times more efficient than its predecessor in the blue part of the spectrum where critical photons are emitted by the gas surrounding stars. This property, in combination with SITELLE’s ability to take images containing four times more pixels, will enable astronomers to map fainter objects and emission lines in the cosmos, and to do so with an improved image definition.

SITELLE will start operations at CHFT in early 2013, where it should quickly benefit astronomers and the scientific community by significantly increasing the amount and quality of the data obtained during observations.

ABB is the world’s leading supplier of Fourier transform spectrometers, with more than 6,000 units delivered worldwide. ABB spectrometers are used throughout the process industries in quality assurance and quality control applications and for process monitoring. They are also playing a vital role in space exploration and in satellite-borne meteorological and environmental applications, including the forthcoming joint European and United States mission to Mars in 2016.

ABB was awarded the contract for SITELLE by Laval University.

Mauna Kea (top) is the world’s largest astronomical observatory. Located on a dormant volcano 4,200 m above sea level, the observatory hosts 13 telescopes, one of which is the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (bottom).
Images courtesy of Jean-Charles Cuillandre (CFHT)


*SITELLE – Spectromètre Imageur à Transformée de Fourier pour l’Etude en Long et en Large de raies d’Emission (Wide-field Imaging Fourier Transform Spectrometer)
* SpIOMM – Spectromètre Imageur de l’Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic (Mont-Mégantic Observatory Imaging Spectrometer)

    •   Cancel
      • Twitter
      • Facebook
      • LinkedIn
      • Weibo
      • Print
      • Email
    •   Cancel
    The Horsehead Nebula is part of a gigantic cloud of molecular gas and dust that is some 1,500 light years distant. It is visible only because it is silhouetted against another, brighter nebula.
    Image: Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope / Coelum

    Contact us

    Page information:
    seitp202 5a76cbad2860b6b3c125794300350a7b