ARCHIVED - MegaPrime Project: International Collaboration to Focus on the Universe

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August 04, 2004— Ottawa, Ontario

CFHT Legacy Survey

Canada and France have initiated the CFHT Legacy Survey (LS) to take mutual advantage of MegaPrime's considerable capabilities. Under this five-year program, an equal partnership between Canada and France, some 500 nights of telescope time will be dedicated to three major projects:

  • study of the Kuiper Belt - a mysterious reservoir of ancient, dim asteroids that encircle the sun beyond the orbit of Neptune,
  • a survey that will reveal the large-scale structure of the dark matter in the universe by observing its weak gravitational lens effect on distant galaxies, and
  • a program to detect and study distant supernovae, titanic stellar explosions that can reveal the effect of dark energy on the evolution of the universe.

"The CFHT LS is a scientific program of remarkable ambition, made possible by MegaPrime and the development of new observing procedures at the CFHT," explaines Dr. Fahlman.

It keeps an eye on asteroids that may threaten the Earth and watches dim ancient asteroids that circle the sun. MegaPrime, the world's largest digital camera has now been released for scientific use on the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT). MegaPrime is a collaboration between the National Research Council's Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics (NRC-HIA) in Victoria, B.C. and several research institutes in France.

NRC is committed to projects like MegaPrime because they provide a unique venue for international collaborations and produce substantial benefits for Canada.

The new camera has the ability to observe large areas of sky, in some cases, an area larger than that covered by four full moons. The huge number of pixels of this camera means that the images are obtained at very high resolution, and can show the detailed structure of faint, distant galaxies. "The speed and accuracy of MegaPrime opens entirely new opportunities for astronomical research and offers the promise of exciting new discoveries," notes Dr. Gregory G. Fahlman, HIA's Director General.

Image of the sky taken my MegaPrime
Image taken by MegaPrime

Canada has a 42.5% interest in the CFHT that is funded and managed by NRC. Canada's contribution to the MegaPrime project includes the Wide Field Corrector (WFC). This device is needed to ensure that a good image of the whole field of view is projected onto the camera's sensors. In addition, Canada was responsible for an automated system, the focus stage assembly, which was designed to continually sense the sharpness of the images formed by the WFC and to make small adjustments in the camera position. Also of vital importance, Canada added two small "guiding cameras" or "guiders", which make small adjustments to keep the field of view absolutely steady. All images taken with MegaPrime are being archived at the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre, part of NRC-HIA.

MegaCam Wide Field Corrector
MegaCam Wide Field Corrector

With MegaPrime "Canadian astronomers have a world-leading tool to further their original research and an opportunity to have a major impact in resolving fundamental questions about the nature of the universe. Moreover, the carefully archived images will provide a lasting legacy for the entire world to exploit in the future." Dr. Fahlman notes.

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