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New Mauna Kea sensor boosts space images

By Star-Advertiser staff

LAST UPDATED: 12:31 a.m. HST, Jun 24, 2012

A revolutionary new sensor in the University of Hawaii’s 88-inch telescope on Mauna Kea has greatly enhanced observations in infrared wavelengths, astronomers say.

This latest sensor is the culmination of a 20-year, $15 million effort that has developed five generations of increasingly larger and more powerful infrared sensors, says the UH Institute for Astronomy.

The institute released the first image from the new sensor on Thursday — a shot of the Whirlpool Galaxy, 23 million light-years away.

“The detail captured all across this extended infrared image really whets our appetite for getting these sensors into cameras at newer, much larger telescopes,” said Donald Hall, the Hilo-based principal investigator for the project. “The level of detail revealed by digitally zooming in anywhere in the 16-megapixel image is truly incredible.”

The sensor, called the HAWAII 4RG-15, has 16 times the pixel count of an earlier sensor developed by the same UH team and installed on the Hubble Space Telescope during the astronauts’ last refurbishment mission in 2009.

It also has four times the pixel count of the largest infrared sensors now in use at telescopes around the world, the institute said in a news release.

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