ULTRACAM operations

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy


ULTRACAM is a digital camera capable of taking (and storing) up to 500 red, green and blue images every second. The instrument was built in just under 3 years by a consortium from the Universities of Sheffield, Warwick and the UK Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh, using a £300,000 grant awarded by STFC. ULTRACAM saw 'first light' in May 2002 on the 4.2-m William Herschel Telescope (WHT) on La Palma, and first light on the 8.2-m Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile in May 2005. To date, ULTRACAM has been awarded a total of 147 nights of time on these telescopes to study white dwarfs, brown dwarfs, pulsars, black-hole/neutron-star X-ray binaries, gamma-ray bursts, cataclysmic variables, eclipsing binary stars, extrasolar planets, flare stars, ultra-compact binaries, active galactic nuclei, asteroseismology and occultations by Solar System objects (Titan, Pluto, the moons of Uranus and Kuiper Belt Objects). This grant proposal requests funding for the proper maintenance and operation of ULTRACAM, as well as a modest programme of minor upgrades, thereby ensuring that ULTRACAM maintains its status as the world's premier instrument for high-speed optical astrophysics. As well as maximising the return on STFC's original investment, this money will also allow us to continue to offer ULTRACAM to others in the astronomical community who wish to use it.


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Hynes R (2019) Optical and X-ray correlations during the 2015 outburst of the black hole V404 Cyg in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Copperwheat C (2009) ULTRACAM observations of two accreting white dwarf pulsators in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Parsons S (2013) Eclipsing post-common envelope binaries from the Catalina surveys in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Osborn J (2011) Conjugate-plane photometry: reducing scintillation in ground-based photometry Conjugate-plane photometry in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Wild J (2020) Spectroscopic and photometric periods of six ultracompact accreting binaries in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Description We have used this grant to operate ULTRACAM on the 3.5m New Technology Telescope and the 4.2m William Herschel Telescope. ULTRACAM is a high-speed astronomical camera which has helped increase our understanding of the dead remnants of stars: white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes.
Exploitation Route Our findings provide the observational underpinning of theories of the structure and evolution of binary stars containing white dwarf, neutron stars and black holes.
Sectors Education

URL http://www.vikdhillon.staff.shef.ac.uk/ultracam/
Description Advanced Grant
Amount € 3,500,000 (EUR)
Organisation European Research Council (ERC) 
Sector Public
Country Belgium
Start 01/2014 
End 12/2018