back to article Hello DARKNESS, my old friend. I've come to talk with you again... about a 10,000-pixel alien-hunting camera

Astronomers are building the world’s largest and most advanced superconducting camera – with the goal of snapping clearer shots of exoplanets for scientists hunting alien life. Thousands of exoplanets have been detected by telescopes in space. Instruments on probes look for the characteristic dip in light emitted from stars …

  1. Swarthy
    Thumb Up

    DARKNESS

    Now that is a world-class Backronym!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: DARKNESS

      The Pentagon is going to hire whoever came up with that tomorrow, they have a never ending appetite for friendly sounding backronyms for various ways of killing people.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bets are on

    Will the first thing they see be a guy in a gorilla suit, or a Google Streetview car??

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bets are on

      It'll be the same telescope looking back at them.*

      *Cue, dramatic mysterious music.

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: Bets are on

        "It'll be the same telescope looking back at them.*"

        The bummer with that will be; having found a habitable planet with life on it, there is no practicable way to get there. ( To exploit the natives/minerals/thaumaturgic energy etc.)

      2. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Alien

        Re: Bets are on

        Close Up" he uses a sophisticated macroscope to look up the skirt of a posing Lieutenant Gay Ellis. Supposedly it's part of a demonstration on how it's impossible to judge magnification without reference points, but even after he gets the point Straker zooms in for a second look... you're not fooling anyone, you sly dog!

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Close_Up_(UFO)

        End theme would certainly count on the dramatic mysterious music front.

  3. po228

    Megapixel-Gigapixel

    That should read 10,000 Megapixels, right? Unless the telescope is sending photos by WAP to a Nokia 7110

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Megapixel-Gigapixel

      Nah, 10,000.

      "DARKNESS houses a 10,000 pixel (80x125) MKID array with 150 µm pixel pitch, optimized for a 0.8 µm to 1.4µm bandwidth."

      https://arxiv.org/pdf/1803.10420.pdf

      C.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
        Trollface

        10,000 ?

        i demand that the next iPhone be a 10,000 pixel phone !

        1. Tom 64

          Re: 10,000 ?

          You're welcome to it, since it has a resolution lower than a ZX spectrum ;)

  4. unwarranted triumphalism

    Good to see your tax money being wasted on something

    How about something more useful, like a tax cut for working people?

    1. DJO Silver badge

      Re: Good to see your tax money being wasted on something

      What would you do with your $0.00001?

      That's about how much of a tax burden this represents and it's money well spent.

      There are indeed many wasteful projects but the ones that waste the most are all military, academic projects like this one are just chump change.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good to see your tax money being wasted on something

      Why is it being wasted? If there is life out there wouldn't you want to know? Can you imagine if we don't know there is life out there and all of sudden some aliens come and steal the butter out of your fridge? Would it not be better to know so you could secure your fridge from the alien butter invaders? People just don't think these things through or are unconcerned about their butter. You need to spread the word.

    3. Mike Moyle Silver badge

      Re: Good to see your tax money being wasted on something

      The project cost $811,000. That's less than one round-trip to Mar-A-Lago on Air Force 1.

      Hell -- Would $811,000 even qualify as a rounding error in the military budget?

    4. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Good to see your tax money being wasted on something

      DON'T feed the trolls!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Good to see your tax money being wasted on something

        Trolls don't eat butter. Apparently.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good to see your tax money being wasted on something

      He's not a troll.

      He's a right wing trump supporter. I know it's hard to tell the difference, but he actually believes what he says is right.

      Amazing for someone that is posting on a government funded initiative called the Internet.

  5. DJO Silver badge

    -273.05°C

    Cool!

  6. NanoMeter

    10,000 pixels?

    Not that impressive these days. Perhaps in 1993.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 10,000 pixels?

      Never mind the width, feel the quality.

    2. John Miles
    3. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      Re: 10,000 pixels?

      Seems a reasonable enough resolution for what appears to be the first DARKNESS sensor to be fitted to a telescope. Besides, its a good idea to keep the physical size down if you're going to make it very, very cold because this saves on the refrigeration bill as well as making the package easier to install in the limited space around the focus of even a big telescope.

      The detector is 80x125 pixels, which, with each pixel being 150 micrometers across, makes the sensor about 18 x 12 mm - thats very comparable with the sensor in a modern bridge camera, though with a resolution that's 1200 times less. That looks bad until you realise that DARKNESS is meant to work in the 700nm - 1um wavelength band, which is about 5.6 times longer wavelength than the bridge camera's sensor has to cope with and so needs a correspondingly larger pixel - roughly 30 times larger for reasonable sensitivity. IOW this is comparing an optical sensor with over 20 years development behind it to the first DARKNESS sensor that's expected to do real work, so I reckon its actually pretty damn good.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: 10,000 pixels?

        I'm a little surprised how little progress has been made in these devices, it only has a R=10 and 10K pixels is useful but we had 8x8 arrays back in the 90s with energy resolutions of R=500 (IIRC)

        There was a bit of a hope that they would make practical near IR spectrographs for 1-2.5um

        I guess there are no other applications of the technology - and the cryogenics is "challenging" so not a lot of industrial RD has gone into the field. Although I can think of a few uses for large area array SQUIDS

    4. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      It's a spectrograph not a camera

      It's not like it going to produce anything that will end up on Instagram.

  7. StargateSg7 Bronze badge

    Cheeky headline take on the Simon and Garfunkel Song "Sound of Silence" which brought up the rather "Disturbed" version in my mind!

    Canon has produced BOTH a 250 megapixel AHS-H sized colour sensor (19,580 x 12,600 pixels) in 2015 and a 448 megapixel sensor in 2010 (201mm by 205mm) which was monochrome but still VERY sensitive so BIG sensors can be made!

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Remember each "pixel" of this camera is also able to measure the energy (ie wavelength) of a photon and its arrival time

      1. Swarthy
        Boffin

        Also Noteworthy

        The closer a pixel's size is to the wavelength of the light it is trying to captre, the more noise is introduced to the image. The goal of DARKNESS is to have as little noise as possible; thus they did not try to shrink the pixels in the sensor.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Gimp

    Most apt for sucha story

    "Hello DARKNESS, my old friend. I've come to talk with you again..."

  9. ravenviz
    Boffin

    Synthetic solar system

    I'd be interested to know if anyone has run any synthetics on our own solar system and what the light dips / spectra would look like from any chosen configuration or distance. If we can model what ours would look like then we could possibly make some additional inferences about distant systems.

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