Detector Development for the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope

Lead Research Organisation: Northumbria University
Department Name: Fac of Engineering and Environment

Abstract

In recent years, a wealth of observational data from a range of (highly successful) ground- and satellite-based solar facilities has revealed the perplexing and complex nature of the Sun's atmospheric structure and dynamics. This tremendous complexity is a result of the continuous interaction of the plasma motions with the magnetic field. To understand these interactions, we need to observe, model and interpret solar phenomena over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales, and in particular establish the links between the small-scale processes and the large-scale phenomena.

Solar physics research is very strong in the UK and an area of high priority in the STFC Roadmap. The commissioning of the Rapid Oscillations in Solar Atmosphere imager in 2009 allowed the UK community to expand both its user base of ground-based solar facilities and its exploitation of data from such facilities, which can provide higher spatial and temporal resolution that their satellite-based counterparts. For the future, the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST), under construction by the US National Solar Observatory with first-light expected in 2019, will be a truly revolutionary facility for ground-based solar physics. It will operate in the optical and near-infrared and be the pre-eminent ground-based solar telescope for the foreseeable future. Key advances in its instrumentation over that currently available include ultra-high spatial (25 km on the solar surface) and temporal (millisecond) resolution, high resolution imaging spectroscopy and coronal magnetometry. The first-light science objectives of the ATST are at the core of UK solar physics research programmes, and it is clearly important for the UK community to have access to the facility to remain competitive.

Current UK-led technology has been highlighted as the best option for detectors meeting the science requirements of the ATST. In this proposal we aim to secure UK participation in the ATST and maximise the science return for the UK community at the time of first-light. This will be achieved by a joint programme, funded by STFC, a consortium of UK universities/research institute and industry (Andor Technology plc), on the development of new state-of-the-art detectors for the ATST, plus a set of software tools that will allow the optimal planning of ATST observations and the processing of the resultant datasets.

The main academic benefit for the UK will be dedicated observing time on the world-leading ATST facility, which our solar physics community will be in an excellent position to exploit. In terms of non-academic benefit, the proposed detector development will have a significant socio-economic impact and is therefore in line with the STFC strategy for economic growth through innovation. It will open new technological markets and provide growth and diversity in existing detector markets.

Planned Impact

1. Public engagement

All Applicants are highly active in Public Understanding of Science (PUS) programmes linked to their research. Examples (which will continue over the grant period) include:

Queen's: talks at annual events (Horizons in Physics for 4th/5th-form students; Physics 6th-Form Open Days; Physics Teachers Conference). Hosts work experience for children, with summer projects funded by Nuffield Foundation. Partnership with W5 Discovery Centre, hosting talks/Q&A sessions and hands-on building games.

Armagh: tours of Observatory and Astropark, talks and special public lectures/exhibitions. Recent PUS projects include construction of the Human Orrery and facilitating an annual Cross-Border Schools Science Conference.

Glasgow: solar physics talks to societies, schools and public including in remote parts of Scotland; school visits with mobile planetarium; tours of observatory; Start-up Science school workshops with RSE and STFC Meet the Expert sessions.

Northumbria: PUS programme with local FE colleges, and involvement in regional/national science festivals (e.g. Newcastle). Recently awarded £1M from HEFCE Catalyst Fund for project to improve physics uptake. Creating Physics and Astrophysics outreach centre for this.

Sheffield: engages in school education programmes during e.g. National Science week, and recently joined University's Expert Guide, used frequently by journalists to source comments on topical news stories.

St Andrews: participates in local science festivals (e.g. Edinburgh, Fife, Dundee) and give schools talks. Lectures at the annual Sutton Trust Summer School and participates in the Annual Space Camp for P6 pupils. Contributes to Sun Trek, a Public Outreach/Educational Website (www.suntrek.org).

Warwick: broad and innovative approach to outreach, spanning formal presentations to interest groups (local astronomical societies), active engagement with media and larger projects (e.g. NESTA). Schools liaison officer supports links with schools and wider community.

2. Knowledge exchange

The large-area sCMOS camera to be developed is to meet the needs of next-generation solar telescopes and the broader astronomy community. However, the solar astronomy market alone is substantial, given the continued investment in existing solar facilities in Europe, US, India and China. There is also currently a demand for large-area CCD cameras in the general astronomy market. It is anticipated that a significant part of this market will migrate towards the next-generation of sCMOS detectors which offer faster speeds and lower noise. Non-solar applications include: near-Earth object detection, speckle interferometry, 'lucky astronomy' and other projects in high-time resolution astrophysics. It is also common in the astronomy marketplace to encounter significant opportunities for large-area cameras. For example, Andor is currently negotiating a contract to deliver 80 large-area CCD units for one project, with delivery over a 4-year period.

Although the unit sales of large-area sCMOS will not be as high as those for the current breed of mid-range sCMOS cameras for microscopy and optical electron microscope instrumentation applications, large-area astronomy detectors are typically priced much higher than mid-range detectors. Hence a lower volume market still yields an appropriate business case. A longer-term aim is to adapt the camera platform for high-speed X-ray detection applications, including protein crystallography and computed 3D X-ray tomography.

Competition currently does not exist, in that large-area fast sCMOS technology has not yet been offered, but that is no guarantee it will not arrive from other parties within the project timescale. The most likely competitor is a US-based company already very active in large-area CCDs. However, Andor is confident of holding a market leading position, given their breath of expertise in both sCMOS and vacuum sensor technology.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The grant provided by the STFC was for software development to aid the analysis of data from the forthcoming DKI Solar Telescope. To date, we have developed software for the accurate selection and extraction of data on magnetic wave guides visible in the Sun's atmosphere. Further, a semi-automated routine has been developed to enable the measurement and characterisation of waves along the magnetised features. The first generation version of the software has been made available via github & zendo.

Further software development is ongoing to extend the capabilities and efficiency.
Exploitation Route The software has been made publicly available in advance of the first light of the DKI Solar Telescope in 2020. This should provide the community with time to learn how to use the software and enable immediate impact upon the arrival of science ready data from DKIST. The software will also be useful for additional studies with existing and future solar observatories.
Sectors Other

URL https://github.com/Richardjmorton/auto_nuwt_public
 
Title Solar wave tracking 
Description To date, we developed software for the accurate selection and extraction of data on magnetic wave guides visible solar atmosphere. Further, an semi-automated routine has been developed to enable the measurement and characterisation of waves along the magnetised features, utilising a combination of non-linear least squares fitting, noise modelling and statistical analysis techniques. The software will be made public in the coming months. 
Type Of Material Data analysis technique 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact There are no notable impacts of the software. A condition of the awarded grant is that no publications can come from the work. The impact of the software development will be felt in 2020, when the DKI Solar Telescope is operational - the instrument for which the software is designed. 
URL https://github.com/Richardjmorton/auto_nuwt_public
 
Description Collaboration with National Solar Observatory USA on software readiness 
Organisation National Solar Observatory (NSO)
Country United States 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We have recently begun a partnership to prepare the software so that it is ready for use with DKIST data upon first light. To date, we have provided the partner with software.
Collaborator Contribution The partner has made no contributions to date due to the newness of the project. It is envisioned they will provide test data and port software code to different languages, e.g., python, such that the software is more widely accessible.
Impact N/A
Start Year 2017
 
Description American Geophysical Union conference (California) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation of software to international audience. Feedback and potential collaborative research were discussed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Big Bang North East 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact The Big Bang North East is a free programme of events designed to get young people aged 11-19 excited about science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) in the real world. At the event we had a stall discussing how we use science and technology to observe and measure the Sun. The stall had interactive elements and enabled the children to interact with data from solar observatories. The interaction led to conversations about careers in science and also the science of the Sun.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description National Astronomy Meeting 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The activity was a presentation at the conference, describing the software developed for the grant and future plans for software development. The purpose was to make the UK solar physics community aware of the software and to find interested parties to collaborate on development and testing. The presentation generated discussion and there was also initial interest for collaboration by audience members from other UK universities. These collaborations are currently under development.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Public talk to Explore (Adult Education centre in Newcastle) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A public talk was given to a group of 15 adults as part of a life-long learning physics education programme. The talk discussed how we observe the Sun and the DKIST project. The talk led to questions and discussions with the audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Talk at Pint of Science 2016 (Newcastle) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The talk was attended by around 20 people as part of the Pint of Science, Science Festival. The talk led to questions and discussions about solar physics and how scientists measure the stars.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Talk to Chevening Scholars (Northumbria University) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Chevening scholars are future leaders, influencers, and decision-makers from all over the world on scholarships funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Around 40 scholars attended a talk during which I discussed the impact of the Sun and the Daniel K Inouye Solar Telescope (formerly the ATST). The talk was followed by questions and discussion afterwards, with many scholars saying they had never appreciated the extent of the impact of the Sun on the Earth.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017