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Our first 'homemade' camera, the Sinistro achieved first light on our 1-meter telescope in Santa Barbara last night. It was entirely designed by our optical and imaging engineers and was constructed in the LCOGT image lab. It has been 6 years in the making, so was a big relief for everyone on Team Sinistro, when the camera was mounted and took its first astronomical image (click on the inset image for a larger view).
"From the dome, to the optics, support structure, mount, control system, electrical panels, software, on down to the instrument. It's fantastically cool to me that every thing those photons touched after they got through the atmosphere was engineered, assembled, tested, and in many cases actually made by someone at LCO. Outside of ESO there's not a lot of observatories that can say that!", said Joe Tufts, one of the scientists working on this project.
Sinistro, Italian for 'left' (because lefties are always in their right brain) is the camera system designed specifically for our 1-meter telescope network. It is based on existing Fairchild Imaging CCD 486 BI devices, and uses the first generation LCOGT detector controller capable of 4 Mpix/s, ~10 e-/pix, and 16-bit dynamic range. The science CCD is cryocooled with a closed cycle chiller to -100ºC to decrease thermal noise, and housed in a vacuum (8e-8 mbar) cryostat for insulation. It is read out through four amplifiers simultaneously (in the corners, which explains the split image) to decrease readout time. The custom camera, controller, and instrument allows us to optimize each element in the system for LCOGT's primary science mission, scintillation-limited broad-band photometry of time varying sources.
Immediately in front of the camera it is a disk type photometric shutter which ensures every pixel is exposed for exactly the same amount of time. This shutter, about the size of a dinner plate, can spin from closed to open to closed in only 250 ms. In front of the shutter is a filter changing mechanism which supports 21 different filters of astronomical interest and can change between any two in < 6 s. Finally, sky side of the filter changer are four auxillary ports which pick off large fields 40 arcminutes off center from the primary Sinistro field. Each auxillary instrument has independent focusing and corrector optics and is theoretically diffraction limited.
The sinistro instrument is more advanced than any other we have previously had in our astronomical arsenal. Congratulations to all of Team Sinistro - Joe Tufts, Rich Lobdill, Annie Hjelstrom,Ben Haldeman, Rachel Haynes, Ben Burleson, Eric Hawkins, Tim Lister, and many more at LCOGT!
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