Zooming in on space

Cosmos Magazine


Cosmos is a quarterly science magazine. We aim to inspire curiosity in ‘The Science of Everything’ and make the world of science accessible to everyone.

By Cosmos

When trying to find things in space, it helps to have technology on your side. And the technology keeps getting better.

A team of US and Japanese scientists and engineers has developed the world’s largest superconducting camera by pixel count (20,440), which they say will enable scientists to directly image exoplanets and discs around bright stars.

It is the first permanently deployed superconducting camera that operates in the optical and near-infrared spectrum, and it runs at a brisk 90 millikelvin – a touch over absolute zero.

Now part of the Subaru Telescope on Maunakea, Hawaii the MKID Exoplanet Camera is so named because it uses Microwave Kinetic Inductance Detectors, which help overcome problems of scattered light associated with even the best adaptive optics systems.

MKIDs also can determine the energy of each photon that hits the detector – allowing scientists to determine a planet’s brightness – and they are fast, reading out data thousands of times per second.

There’s still work to be done, notably on the software and algorithms, but the developers, led by the University of California Santa Barbara, are confident of a bright future. The full story to date is told in a paper to be published in Publications of the Astronomy Society of the Pacific.

Meanwhile, astronomers using a suite of the world’s proven telescopes have characterised only the second known minimoon of Earth, the asteroid now known as 2020 CD3.

It was first discovered in February via the University of Arizona’s Catalina Sky Survey, and such was the excitement that 23 researchers from 14 academic institutions in seven countries joined the quest to find out more. Their findings are published in The Astronomical Journal.

Minimoons are small asteroids temporarily captured into orbit around Earth. Within about a year, they are flung back into interplanetary space. CD3 is about a metre in diameter and came within about 13,000 kilometres of Earth at closest approach.

The first known minimoon, 2006 RH120, was detected 14 years ago. With the Vera C Rubin Observatory scheduled to open in 2023, expect to hear about quite a lot more in the near future.

201125 minimoon
Three images using different filters obtained by the 8-metre Gemini North telescope on Hawaii’s Maunakea were combined to produce this colour composite of 2020 CD3 (centre, point source). Credit: International Gemini Observatory / NOIRLab / NSF / AURA /G Fedorets

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