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The world most sensitive astronomical camera was developed at the Université de Montréal. NASA is the first buyer.

An international team composed of researchers of the LAE (CRAQ and physics department of the UdeM), of the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille (France) and of the Québec company Photon Etc., recently developed the world most sensitive camera for use at the Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic, amongst others. During his PhD project under the supervision of Prof. Claude Carignan, Olivier Daigle created a new type of controller for an imagery chip (CCD) built by the company E2V Technologies. This camera is commercialized by a young Québec company, Photon Etc., and will be used at the OMM and by NASA, who bought the first of these cameras.

The detector is composed of a CCD controller to count the photons. It consists in a digital imagery device used to amplify photons arriving on the astronomical cameras and that of other instruments used in situation of low luminosity. The controller produces data at a rate of 25 Gbits per second. The electrical signal used to control the imagery chip is 500 times more precise than a regular controller. The improved precision reduces the level of instrumental noise that is hindering the detection of weak signals for celestial objects. More specifically, the controller permits to greatly increase the sensitivity of imagery detectors. This is equivalent to doubling the diameter of the mirror of the Mont-Mégantic telescope.

“The first astronomical results are stupefying and demonstrate the augmentation of sensitivity brought by the new controller, explained Olivier Daigle, researcher at the Physics Department of the UdeM. The clarity of the images suddenly brings us closer to the stars we are trying to understand”

A growing Québec company

The company Photon Etc., developed a retail version of the controller built by Olivier Daigle and his team, and integrates it into complete cameras. NASA was first to place an order for one of these cameras and was quickly followed by the astrophysics research group of the University of Sao Paolo and by a Canada-Europe consortium to equip a telescope in Chile. Moreover, researchers in medical physics, in bioluminescence, in Raman imagery and in other domains of research requiring rapid and high-sensitivity imagery showed interests in buying these cameras.

Photon Etc. is a research and development company and a manufacturer specialized in measurements and optical analysis instrumentation. The company is expanding after having spent four years in the incubator of new technologies company of the UdeM and of the École Polytechnique.

“The sensitivity of the cameras developed by Oliver Daigle and Photon Etc. will not only permit to better understand the Universe but also to better detect some weak optical signals of the human body, points out Sébastien Blais-Ouellette, director of Photon Etc. These signals can reveal the early signs of several diseases including macular degeneration and certain types of cancers. Early diagnostics allows one to take actions before the disease spreads, therefore saving lives and preventing important treatment costs.”

The complete scientific results have been published in the prestigious scientific journal Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. This work has been performed with different sources of funding, including the NSERC Industrial Postgraduate scholarship in collaboration with Photon Etc., and a subsidy from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI), from the FQRNT and from the NRC Industrial Research Assistance Program.

The image below is that of an observed galaxy, on the left with a camera and a regular controller and on the right with the new camera at Mont-Mégantic and the controller CCCP. The two images have the same scale and have both been taken at the OMM with the same exposure time and the same observing conditions.

Source :
Université de Montréal and Photon etc.

Olivier Hernandez, Ph.D.
CRAQ – Université de Montréal
Phone: 514-343-6111 ext 4681
Fax: 514-343-2071

Sébastien Blais-Ouellette
Photon etc.
(514) 385-9555, ext 113

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