Astronomers to Coldly Go Where No-one Has Gone Before

Astronomers are poised to take another giant leap into some of the coldest regions of space following the announcement that Canada will join the UK in developing a new generation camera for the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) in Hawaii - the world's largest telescope for studying astronomy at sub-millimetre wavelengths.

The announcement today (26 September 2003) of a grant of £5.5 million (12.3 million Canadian Dollars) from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation will contribute to the development of a new instrument, SCUBA 2. The UK, through the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) will also contribute some £4 million to the development of the instrument with a further £2.3 million coming from the JCMT partner Agencies contributions (UK, Canada and the Netherlands).

The project is lead by the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh. The new instrument will supersede the original groundbreaking Sub-millimetre Common User Bolometer Array (SCUBA) frequently cited as one of the most important ground-based astronomical instruments ever. SCUBA was also designed and constructed at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh in collaboration with Queen Mary, University of London.

Professor Ian Halliday, Chief Executive of PPARC commented "SCUBA 2 will enable the JCMT to maintain its position as one of the world's leading facilities in the exotic field of sub-millimetre astronomy. We are delighted that our Canadian colleagues have joined with us to spearhead its development."

Dr Wayne Holland, SCUBA 2 Project scientist at the UK ATC said "To work in this challenging field requires special techniques and cutting-edge technology. With a much larger field of view and the capability to limit background 'noise', SCUBA 2 will map large areas of sky up to 1000 times faster than the current SCUBA camera. Sub-millimetre detectors must be cooled to a fraction of a degree above absolute zero (-273 decrees C). The UK ATC has considerable experience of producing electrical and optical systems that deliver a high level of performance at these extreme temperatures."

Dr Adrian Russell, Director of the UK ATC said: "SCUBA 2 will be a second revolution in sub-millimetre astronomy and will build on the ground-breaking science that its predecessor SCUBA (1) has already delivered. The JCMT community will have access to a tremendously powerful tool which will not only carry out world class science, but will put them in an enviable position to exploit the new ALMA telescope when it comes online. "

Sub-millimetre astronomy is a new and rapidly developing field that allows scientists to probe the composition of comets, the birthplaces of stars and the most distant galaxies. Sub-millimetre wavelengths lie between those of traditional radio astronomy and those of the newer but now fairly well understood infrared astronomy. Astronomers detect light at sub-millimetre wavelengths in order to penetrate clouds of cosmic dust.

The vast majority of light from young galaxies in the distant universe is absorbed by dust, and is only observable by astronomers at sub-millimetre wavelengths. The quantity of dust in young galaxies reveals whether stars formed gradually, or mainly in sudden bursts, in the early history of the Universe.

SCUBA 2 will actually have two cameras - each operating simultaneously at a different wavelength in the sub-millimetre band. The 6400 pixels in each camera will cover an 8 x 8 arc-minute patch of sky (about a third of the full moon) or some 16 times the area of the existing SCUBA instrument. The improved sensitivity and imaging power will mean that observations that now take weeks of telescope time with SCUBA will be made in only a few tens of minutes.


Gill Ormrod - PPARC Press Office
Tel: 01793 442012. Email:

Eleanor Gilchrist - Royal Observatory Edinburgh Press Officer
Tel: 0131 668 8397. Email:

Damian Audley, UK ATC - SCUBA 2 Instrument Scientist
Tel: 0131 668 8364. Email:

Suzanne Quinn, External relations, Canada Federation for Innovation
Tel: 001 613 996 3160. Email:

Professor Walter Gear, Head of the Astronomical Instrument Group, University of Wales Cardiff
Tel: 02920 875526. Email:

Professor Mike Fich, Canadian Consortium Principle Investigator, University of Waterloo
Tel: +1 519 888 4567 x2725. Email:

Dr Douglas Pierce Price - James Clerk Maxwell Telescope
Tel: +1 808 969 6524. Email:


SCUBA 2 test piece

SCUBA 2 sub array test piece
Credit: UK ATC

CAD drawing of SCUBA 2

Credit: UK ATC

Scale of SCUBA 2

Image showing a person (5ft 1" tall) standing next to SCUBA 2 at approximately where the platform will be on the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope.
Credit: UK ATC

James Clerk Maxwell Telescope

The James Clerk Maxwell Telescope
Credit: Joint Astronomy Centre


The Collaboration
Development of SCUBA 2 will be led by the UK ATC at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh in collaboration with groups at the University of Wales Astronomical Instrument Group, Cardiff, the Scottish Microelectronics Centre at the University of Edinburgh, the United States National Institute for Standards and Technology at Boulder, Colorado and a consortium of nine Canadian Universities led by Professor Mike Fich at the University of Waterloo, Ontario.

In addition contributions to the SCUBA 2 design and development are being made by Leiden University and the National Institute of Astronomy, The Netherlands.

The UK ATC will carry out the design and development of the instrument optics, cryogenic cooling systems, super-cooled electronics and software and the necessary interfacing of the instrument to the existing JCMT computer control systems.

The Astronomical Instrument Group at the Department of Physics and Astronomy of the University of Wales will carry out the detailed design, development and manufacture of the Focal Plane Unit. They will also conduct optical testing of the prototype arrays and support commissioning of the instrument at the telescope.

The Canadian Universities consortium will assume responsibility for the construction and testing of the detector array control and 'room temperature' electronics. They will also develop the software for these electronics along with image processing and archiving software.

The Canadian Consortium will also make their own unique contribution to the project by the design, development and manufacture of two scientific instruments, a polarimeter and a Fourier Transform Spectrometer (FTS), which will enhance the science capability of the SCUBA 2 instrument. The polarimeter will enable SCUBA 2 to probe magnetic fields that exist during star formation. The FTS will enable astronomers to use SCUBA 2 to study the existence and abundance of different types of molecules within star forming regions.

Sub-millimetre Astronomy
The relatively recent development of ground-based sub-millimetre astronomy can be attributed to two main factors: atmospheric limitations and the lack of key technologies. Even from dry high-altitude sites most of the sub-millimetre radiation from space is absorbed by the atmosphere and the sky itself emits vast amounts of sub-millimetre radiation which drowns the faint signals from space. However, enormous technological advances have been made during the past decade. Single-dish telescopes (looking rather like radio telescopes or satellite dishes 10-15 metres in diameter) are now routinely operating in the sub-millimetre. On the other hand, instrumentation has only recently advanced from the single-pixel photometer to the first generation multi-element arrays.

The impact of the first SCUBA camera on the 15m JCMT has been immense. In particular, it has led to major advances in our understanding of the how planets, stars and galaxies form. In cosmology SCUBA has been described as having an impact "as big or bigger than the Hubble Space Telescope" having shown that the far infrared/sub-millimetre background is in fact composed of the combined light from distant dusty galaxies. The value of SCUBA is demonstrated by a recent survey carried out by the Space Telescope Science Institute, in which SCUBA came a close second to the Hubble Space Telescope in terms of scientific impact. However, despite making several pioneering breakthroughs in this previously unexplored field, it is fair to say that SCUBA has really only given us a glimpse of what is still to come. With only 128 pixels in two arrays, surveying large areas of sky, or imaging to any great depth, is still painfully slow.

James Clerk Maxwell Telescope
The JCMT is the world's largest single-dish submillimetre telescope. It collects faint submillimetre signals with its 15 metre diameter dish. It is situated near the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii, at an altitude of approximately 4000 metres (14000 feet) above sea level. It is operated by the Joint Astronomy Centre, on behalf of the UK Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, the Canadian National Research Council, and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research.

UK Astronomy Technology Centre
The UK Astronomy Technology Centre is located at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh (ROE). It is a scientific site belonging to the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC). The mission of the UK ATC is to support the mission and strategic aims of PPARC and to help keep the UK at the forefront of world astronomy by providing a UK focus for the design, production and promotion of state of the art astronomical technology.

Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI)
The CFI is an independent corporation established by the Government of Canada in 1997. The Foundation's goal is to strengthen the capability of Canadian universities, colleges, research hospitals, and other not-for-profit institutions to carry out world-class research and technology development. By investing in research infrastructure projects, the CFI supports research excellence, and helps strengthen research training at institutions across Canada.

The Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA) is an international collaboration between Europe and the North America to build a synthesis radio telescope that will operate at millimetre and sub-millimetre wavelengths. Since joining the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in July 2002 the UK is set to benefit from increased involvement in the design, construction and scientific discoveries of the ALMA, a network of 64 twelve-metre radio telescopes to be sited in Chile.