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HiPERCAM: A high-speed camera for the study of rapid variability in the Universe

Final Report Summary - HIPERCAM (HiPERCAM: A high-speed camera for the study of rapid variability in the Universe)

The primary aim of my ERC Advanced Grant was to design, build and commission a new astronomical instrument called HiPERCAM. HiPERCAM is a high-speed camera for the study of rapid variability in the Universe, which allows us to study compact objects of all classes, including black holes, neutron stars, white dwarfs, brown dwarfs, exoplanets and the minor bodies of the Solar System. The resulting data will enable us to help answer the questions: What are the progenitors of type Ia supernovae? What are the properties of exoplanet atmospheres? What is the equation of state of the degenerate matter found in white dwarfs and neutron stars? What is the nature of the flow of matter close to the event horizon of black holes? What gravitational wave signals are likely to be detected by the next generation of space-based detectors? What are the properties of the dwarf planets in the Kuiper belt?

HiPERCAM builds on the success of my previous instrument, ULTRACAM, with very significant improvements in performance thanks to the use of the latest technologies. HiPERCAM uses 4 dichroic beamsplitters to image simultaneously in 5 optical channels covering the ugriz optical bands. Frame rates of over 1000 per second are achievable using an ESO CCD controller (NGC), with every frame GPS timestamped. The detectors are custom-made, frame-transfer CCDs from e2v, with 4 low-noise outputs, mounted in small thermoelectrically-cooled heads operated at 180 K, resulting in virtually no dark current. The two reddest CCDs are deep-depletion devices with anti-etaloning, providing high quantum efficiencies across the red part of the spectrum with no fringing. The instrument also incorporates a novel comparison-star pick-off system for improved differential photometry of the brightest targets, such as the host stars of transiting exoplanets.

HiPERCAM was commissioned on the world's largest optical/infrared telescope - the 10.4m Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC) on La Palma - in February 2018. HiPERCAM has already been used for 66 nights on the GTC and two of the first tranche of papers have been published in Nature Astronomy. With its ability to do both high-speed and deep simultaneous ugriz imaging, HiPERCAM is arguably the world’s leading optical camera for astronomy, able to study sources to g~23 mag in 1 s and g~28 mag in 1 hr.