Revolutionary high-speed camera captures movies of space on world’s largest telescope.

A photo of a galaxy, taken from the HiPERCAM

Our scientists have helped develop a new camera which will revolutionise scientists’ understanding of stars and black holes.

The HiPERCAM project is led by Professor Vik Dhillon from the Department of Physics and Astronomy, in partnership with the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Astronomy Technology Centre (ATC) and the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias, along with researchers from the University of Warwick and Durham University.

HiPERCAM will take high-speed images of objects in the Universe, with the ability to take more than 1,000 images per second.

The data captured by the camera will let scientists study the remnants of dead stars such as white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes. These are key objects within astrophysics and allow researchers to test theories of fundamental physics.

By observing objects in our Solar System pass in front of background stars, HiPERCAM will also teach scientists about the sizes and shapes of the minor planets beyond Pluto’s orbit, and whether or not they possess atmospheres, rings and satellites.

The pioneering camera has been mounted on the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC) - the world’s largest telescope based on the island of La Palma. Situated 2,500 metres above sea level, it is one of the best places in the world to study the night sky.

Professor Dhillion, Professor of Astrophysics said: “Normal cameras installed on large telescopes usually capture only one picture every few minutes. HiPERCAM can take one picture every millisecond. The high speed essentially provides a slow-motion view of rapidly varying celestial objects.

“The high-speed images are also captured in five different colours simultaneously, which means we can instantly tell the difference between hot stars - which are burning at tens of thousands of degrees Celsius and are blue in colour - and cooler stars, which appear red and are burning only a few thousand degrees.

“The combination of HiPERCAM and the world’s largest telescope provides us with a unique, new view of the Universe, which history tells us is when major new discoveries are made. Astronomers are excited to use HiPERCAM on the GTC to start exploring the Universe at high speed.”