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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, March 2, 2003

Mauna Kea telescope gets world's biggest camera

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

A massive new camera on the Canada-France-Hawai'i Telescope on Mauna Kea likely will lead to the discovery of more new moons around the planets in our solar system.

University of Hawai'i planetary astronomers have been rendering science textbooks obsolete every few months with a series of discoveries. Several months ago, UH Institute for Astronomy experts found a previously unknown moon orbiting Jupiter, bringing the giant planet's total to 40 moons. The same team found 11 Jupiter moons earlier last year, and 11 others the year before that.

A few weeks ago, three new moons around Neptune were announced by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics using a telescope in Chile and the Canada-France-Hawai'i Telescope atop Mauna Kea.

The research will be further aided by the French-built Megacam, part of a larger instrument called Megaprime, that can take images with 350 million pixels. That's more than 100 times more powerful than some of the better digital cameras on the market, which take images that max out at about 3 million pixels. (A pixel is the smallest possible element of an image.)

The Megacam is the biggest camera in the world and will be able to capture immense swaths of sky at one time, said astronomer Jean-Charles Cuillandre. He said Megaprime, which is in final testing and should begin regular astronomy within a few days, can view an area of sky that is one degree square — a size that could contain four full moons.

"This is called high-resolution wide-field imaging. The resolution we're getting is the best that Mauna Kea can provide," he said.

Planetary astronomer David Jewitt said he expects dozens of new natural satellites — or moons — to be discovered in short order with the help of Megaprime. Neptune alone could prove to have 60 more moons, he said.