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Heising-Simons Foundation Grant Will Fund New Instrument

Aug 24, 2022

The MuSCAT3 multi-channel camera, shown before it shipped from Tokyo in the summer of 2020, was installed on the LCO 2m telescope at Haleakala Observatory.

The Heising-Simons Foundation is investing in the future of astronomy with a grant of $1.6 million that will provide funding for a new multichannel imager. The award will be managed by the Las Cumbres Observatory, a global robotic telescope network dedicated to time domain astronomy. The instrument, called MuSCAT4, will be installed on the 2-meter Faulkes Telescope South at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia. LCO is thrilled to be able to offer this enhanced capability to astronomers around the world.

MuSCAT (Multicolor Simultaneous Camera for studying Atmospheres of Transiting exoplanets) is a four-channel optical simultaneous imager. Observing in four channels at once dramatically improves the effective throughput of the telescope, benefiting all science observations. MuSCAT4 will be the fourth instrument in a series of multi-channel imagers designed and constructed by a team led by Dr. Norio Narita at the University of Tokyo and the Astrobiology Center in Tokyo, Japan. Dr. Narita has also raised an additional $300,000 to contribute to the construction of MuSCAT4. The technical specifications of MuSCAT3 are located here on the LCO website.

LCO entered discussions with the Astrobiology Center of Japan in the summer of 2019 to form a partnership regarding building multicolor imaging cameras for the network. In 2020, MuSCAT3 was installed on the 2-m Faulkes Telescope North at Haleakala Observatory. MuSCAT3 is a component of the majority of LCO Key Projects. These include the OMEGA project to observe microlensing events, the Global Supernova Project, and a key project to characterize exoplanet candidates detected by TESS, NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. During exoplanet transits, simultaneous observations in multiple passbands can reveal information about planetary atmospheres. LCO made MuSCAT3 available to the astrophysics community for science observations in November 2020. Demand for MuSCAT observations has continued to increase and could fill up all of the available time at the northern 2-m telescope. The need for a MuSCAT at the southern hemisphere 2-m telescope is clear and will only increase when the Rubin Observatory’s Legacy Survey of Space and Time begins in 2024.

MuSCAT3 has already made significant contributions to the field of exoplanet science. One recent result is the discovery of a sub-Neptune sized planet, TOI-1696b, that likely possesses an atmosphere. MuSCAT3 was also recently used to detect unexpected giant planets around four K- and M-dwarf (low mass) stars; such giant planet/dwarf star systems are uncommon.

MuSCAT3 also recently demonstrated its utility beyond exoplanet science by observing NGC4395. This Seyfert galaxy has an active nucleus, and MuSCAT allowed measurements of correlations in the amount of light received from the source at different wavelengths in an object more than two orders of magnitude fainter than those where this phenomena was originally identified. This shows that the scaling relation is valid for a large range of intrinsic luminosity and mass for active galaxies.

The Heising-Simons Foundation, in recognition of the unique research capabilities of LCO, has provided funding for the construction and commissioning of the new instrument. "LCO's value to the time domain astronomy community is very clear", notes Science Program Officer Jochen Marschall. "The Foundation is happy to support the MusCAT4 instrument and LCO's efforts to expand their capabilities in the Southern hemisphere."

MuSCAT4 logo

The new logo for MuSCAT4, designed by the MuSCAT team, incorporates the Southern Cross in recognition of the instrument’s future home in Australia.

Las Cumbres Observatory is grateful to the Astrobiology Center of Japan for the design and construction of these fine imagers. LCO also recognizes the efforts that enabled work on the MuSCAT instruments to continue during the pandemic. The science, engineering, and software teams of LCO and the Astrobiology Center have worked together via video conferencing to support each other. Dr. Norio is enthusiastic for the project, “It was my pleasure to partner with LCO for developing MuSCAT3. And I am now excited at this new opportunity to develop MuSCAT4 on the 2-m Faulkes Telescope South. I hope that MuSCAT4 will enable interesting observations for various objects, such as transiting exoplanets, variable stars, transients, Solar System bodies, distant galaxies, etc., and will become a powerful infrastructure of astronomy in the southern hemisphere.”

LCO anticipates first light for MuSCAT 4 to be achieved in December, 2023. Dr. Lisa Storrie-Lombardi, Director of Las Cumbres Observatory, is looking forward to making the new instrument available to the global community of astronomy. “MuSCAT3 has proven itself to be a powerful and reliable instrument and is in great demand from our community. We are looking forward to MuSCAT4 providing the same capabilities for southern hemisphere objects.”

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First light for MuSCAT3 was achieved on September 28, 2020. All four cameras captured an image of the Dumbbell Nebula, M27. The large top image is from the green channel, the three smaller images of the same part of the sky were taken simultaneously in successively redder colors (from left to right, red and two near-infrared images).

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