May 27, 2005

Arizona Getting $6.6 Million Night Sky Camera

TUCSON, Ariz. -- A $6.6 million pixel camera for taking detailed research photographs of the night sky is scheduled to be built for the Kitt Peak National Observatory with help from the University of Wisconsin.

When it's completed, the camera will be fitted to the 3.5-meter WIYN telescope atop Kitt Peak, located southwest of Tucson.

A grant from the National Science Foundation will cover $1.6 million of the camera's cost.

WIYN's business partners - the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, Yale University, and the Tucson-based National Optical Astronomy Observatories - are paying the rest.

The camera will weigh about 2,000 pounds and take images using a billion pixels.

Project scientists expect the camera to be operational as early as 2009.

The WIYN telescope - carrying the initials of the universities and the observatory - is currently capable of taking pictures of the night sky that are 1 degree across, about twice the size of the moon as seen from Earth.

"WIYN produces just about the best, most detailed images of any telescope in the continental U.S.," said George Jacoby, director of the WIYN observatory and project scientist for the new camera. "The combination of very wide fields and detailed images within that field give you an extraordinary amount of information."

WIYN's observations of distant supernovae, or exploding stars, have helped fuel the novel theory that the universe is accelerating at it expands.

The images of star clusters, nebulae and faraway galaxies have wowed the international science community, showing up nearly two dozen times in NASA's photos-of-the-day postings on the Internet.


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Kitt Peak National Observatory

University of Wisconsin