Large-area CMOS sensors to measure objects at edge of Solar System

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e2v will supply a set of 40 large-area CMOS imaging sensors for three ground-based telescopes as part of the Transneptunian Automated Occultation Survey (TAOS II). The contract was awarded to e2v by the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASIAA) in Taiwan.

TAOS II will measure the size distribution of small objects (~1km diameter) at the edge of our Solar System in the Kuiper Belt and beyond. These objects are of scientific interest because they provide important information on the formation and dynamic evolution of the Solar System. TAOS II will operate three medium sized telescopes at the Observatorio Astronomico Nacional (OAN) at San Pedro Mártir (SPM) in Baja California, Mexico. Each telescope will be equipped with a custom high-speed camera capable of collecting image data on more than 10,000 stars simultaneously, at a readout rate of 20Hz. The resulting data volume will be enormous, with over 300 terabytes per year of raw image data.

These three telescopes will each have a 150mm diameter focal plane that is equipped with ten 8.8 Megapixel e2v CMOS (active pixel sensor) devices that will be custom designed, manufactured and back-thinned by e2v to provide very low read-noise (competitive to CCD sensors) and high spectral response. The 31 x 74mm sensors will operate at 20fps (a rate not possible with this size of CCD) to detect the fraction of a second when a Kuiper belt object passes in front of a distant star and the photometric light dips. These very distant Solar System objects are rarely studied because they are so small and faint, making it impossible to detect them directly.

Paul Ho, the director of ASIAA said: ‘TAOS II is a major initiative at the ASIAA to work at the frontier of time-domain astrophysics, and Solar System exploration. The new CMOS sensor technology from e2v enables fast and sensitive astronomical observations over a large focal area. This opens up a new research field for fast time variable science in astronomy.’