At the Palomar Observatory near San Diego, astronomers are busy tinkering with a high-tech instrument that could discover a variety of objects both far from Earth and closer to home.
The Caltech HIgh-speed Multi-color camERA (CHIMERA) system is looking for objects in the Kuiper Belt, the band of icy bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune that includes Pluto. It can also detect near-Earth asteroids and exotic forms of stars. Scientists at Caltech and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are collaborating on this instrument.
"The Kuiper Belt is a pristine remnant of the formation of our solar system," said Gregg Hallinan, CHIMERA principal investigator at Caltech. "By studying it, we can learn a large amount about how our solar system formed and how it's continuing to evolve."
"Each of CHIMERA's cameras will be taking 40 frames per second, allowing us to measure the distinct diffraction pattern in the wavelengths of light to which they are sensitive," said Leon Harding, CHIMERA instrument scientist at JPL. "This high-speed imaging technique will enable us to find new Kuiper Belt objects far less massive in size than any other ground-based survey to date."
Hallinan's CHIMERA team at Caltech and JPL published a paper led by Harding describing the instrument this week in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.