Scientists developing high-energy camera that detects the faintest atmospheric light

slacs high energy camera in development chec module edit
One of the CHEC photomultiplier modules currently being tested. Credit: Fabricio Sousa/SLAC

Scientists at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, in Menlo Park, California, are currently building and testing unique components designed to collect the smallest traces of light in the sky. The end-result of this extensive research will be an innovative camera meant to complement a telescope capable of measuring wide-ranging gamma-rays.

The CTA will be able to detect ultra-high energy electromagnetic radiation, also known as gamma-rays. This radiation is so powerful that it breaks into small particles over our atmosphere faster than the speed of light, which necessitates the development of a specialized type of camera called the Compact High-energy Camera (CHEC); current CCD-based cameras in observatories are nowhere fast enough. The CHEC would be stronger than the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope that’s currently in orbit, and allow scientists to capture the faintest, fastest flashes of light in the night sky. As light is one thing scientists use to search for faraway objects in space, the CHEC’s development could aid in space exploration.

According to SLAC, the CHEC camera will consist of several electronic components including photomultipliers, which are tiny modules able to collect and amplify individual particles of light. Another component is the TARGET chip, created by the combined efforts of University of Hawaii and SLAC researchers. The TARGET chip is an integral circuit chip that is able to read 16 pixels of photomultiplier signals up to one billion times a second.

Luigi Tibaldo, a researcher working on the CHEC project, said the prototype camera would utilize 32 different modules with 64-bit photomultipliers in addition to four TARGET chips. University of Hawaii researchers are currently working alongside Japanese electronics firm Hamamatsu Photonics in an effort to mass-produce the necessary modules for the new camera and telescope array.

The 32 photomultiplier modules that make up the camera.
The 32 photomultiplier modules that make up the camera.

SLAC seeks to install the first CHEC into a prototype telescope that will be used in the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA), a ground-based open observatory still under development by a consortium of more than a thousand members from countries such as Japan, Germany, India, the U.S., and others. The observatory will actually be comprise of two separate arrays, one in the Northern Hemisphere and the other in the Southern Hemisphere. There will be a total of more than 100 telescopes of three different sizes.

Researchers are set to continue testing the modules throughout the month of April before installing them into the final assembly of the CHEC camera. The CTA telescopes are currently in development.


Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Halfbikes, VR for all your senses, and more

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!

Light on price but rich on features, these are the best cameras for students

Need pro-level features on a budget? The best cameras for students mix advanced features with a more palatable price point. From $2K entry level full frame cameras to $600 budget picks, here are five of the best cameras for students.

The Canon EOS Rebel T6 DSLR camera gets a steep price cut at Walmart

Modern smartphones can snap pretty impressive pics, but if you want pro-quality photos, you need a dedicated digital camera. The Canon EOS Rebel T6 is one of the best entry-level DSLR cameras on the market, and it’s on sale right now for…

Etch-A-Snap camera puts a modern spin on one of your favorite childhood toys

Can't draw on an Etch A Sketch? Snap a photo with the Etch-A-Snap and the camera will draw out the scene for you. The weirdly cool camera designed by Martin Fitzpatrick replaces the usual LCD screen with an old-school Etch A Sketch.
Emerging Tech

Stellar wind plays a key role in heating Jupiter’s atmosphere

Our Sun, like other stars, gives off gases called stellar winds which are important in star formation. Now it appears that these winds have another important effect: warming the atmosphere on planets like Jupiter.
Product Review

Equal parts tool and toy, the Lensbaby Edge 35 bucks photographic tradition

The Lensbaby Edge 35, part of the Composer Pro optic swap system, creates tilt-shift-like blur without the tilt-shift price. Made for photographers who want find tradition boring, it opens up new ways to work with blur.

The Black Eye Pro Cinema Wide G4 is a knockout lens for any smartphone

Where cheaper wide-angle accessory lenses add distortion, and costlier models don't always justify their higher prices, the Black Eye Pro Cinema Wide G4 offers a valuable balance of modest price and high quality optics.

The best budget-friendly GoPro alternatives that won’t leave you broke

Cold weather is here, and a good action camera is the perfect way to record all your adventures. You don't need to shell out the big bucks for a GoPro: Check out these great GoPro alternatives, including some 4K cameras, that won’t leave…

Family feud: Huawei P30 Pro vs. P20 Pro vs. Mate 20 Pro camera shootout

The Huawei P30 Pro's camera has an amazing zoom mode and low light capabilities. But take these away, and how does it compare when facing its sibling phones, the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro, taking regular photos?

Nikon Z 7 vs. Sony A7R III: High-res mirrorless cameras compared

The Nikon Z 7 and Sony A7R III both have over 40 megapixels, but which one comes out on top? With similar image quality, the answer comes down to speed, autofocus, battery life, and design.

Panasonic Lumix S1R vs. Nikon Z 7: When megapixels matter, which do you choose?

The 47-megapixels Lumix S1R and 46-megapixel Nikon Z 7 are the two highest-resolution, full-frame mirrorless cameras on the market. The S1R features a high-resolution mode that can take 187MP images, but the Nikon is lighter and cheaper.

Sweet 16: Wacom’s Cintiq 16 pen display makes retouching photos a breeze

Wacom’s Cintiq pen displays are usually reserved for the pros (or wealthy enthusiasts), but the new Cintiq 16 brings screen and stylus editing to an approachable price. Does it cut too much to get there?

Selfies are now banned at China’s gigantic Aperture Spherical Telescope

You can't take a selfie with the world's largest single-dish radio telescope anymore, as the Chinese government has banned everything from smartphones to digital cameras in the surrounding 5-kilometer area.

After controversial video, China bans ‘Leica’ on social media

A video that referenced Tiananmen Square got the name of the camera company Leica banned from the social media platform Weibo. Leica says the video wasn't an officially sanctioned promotion.