Université Laval and ABB deliver a unique instrument
for astronomy

Québec April 10 2015

SITELLE with its control box.

A unique camera in the world for research in astrophysics to improve the knowledge on the formation of galaxies and the evolution of the universe

Université Laval and ABB announce today the final phase of a major development project for an astronomical measurement instrument offering unsurpassed precision. Named SITELLE (Wide-field Imaging Fourier Transform Spectrometer), this instrument integrates several advanced technologies that will be installed at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT), one of the most productive telescopes in the world, located at the summit of Mauna Kea on Hawaii's Big Island. SITELLE will analyze the characteristics of the light emitted by each component of large astronomical objects such as nebulae and galaxies, making it possible to analyze these celestial objects as never before.

The design of SITELLE presented a tremendous technical challenge. The heart of the instrument is based on the displacement of a mirror to an accuracy of one millionth of a millimeter assisted by laser beams. SITELLE must operate in difficult weather conditions at 4,200 meters/13,778 feet above sea level at the top of the highest volcano in the Hawaiian archipelago, while following the course of the stars in the sky. SITELLE is the result of the expertise of the team headed by astrophysicist Laurent Drissen and optical design specialist Simon Thibault, both professors at the Faculty of Science and Engineering from Université Laval, and the know-how of the CFHT team in wide-field cameras and ABB’s Measurement & Analytics team the prime contractor of the project in the field of spectroscopy and optical instrumentation.

"We are very proud to have built this new camera with Université Laval,that will be the pride of the CFHT internationally. It is the result of a long-standing collaboration between Université Laval and ABB. Standing 2 meters tall, weighing more than 400 kg/882 lbs, with lenses the size of dinner plates, SITELLE will be the largest and most ambitious Fourier Transform imaging spectrometer ever built and the most powerful of its kind in astronomy," said Marc Corriveau, general manager of the ABB Measurement & Analytics’ Analyzer factory in Quebec City.

Project manager Laurent Drissen explained that SITELLE is the logical continuation of SpIOMM project, an imaging spectrometer prototype developed jointly by Université Laval and ABB, which for nearly 10 years has been one of the most used instruments at the Mont-Mégantic Observatory at the entrance of the National Park of Mont-Mégantic in Notre-Dame-des-Bois, Quebec, Canada within the framework of masters and doctorate projects. He added, "I would like to acknowledge the priceless contribution of a dozen students, both for the design of data analysis software and for the development of the observation methods and testing phases, as well as the outstanding support of management and CFHT staff. SITELLE is an exceptional instrument which I believe will make its mark in the history of astronomical instrumentation."

Building SITELLE also involved the expertise of several companies in the Quebec region, particularly in the areas of carbon fiber molding, precision machining, and fiber laser source. Université de Montréal, partner of Université Laval in the Centre for Research in Astrophysics of Québec (CRAQ), also provided opto-mechanical expertise for the project. Building SITELLE was made possible through a grant from the federal and provincial governments through the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) program.

About ABB

ABB's Measurement & Analytics business unit (www.abb.com/measurement) is among the world's leading manufacturers and suppliers of instrumentation and analyzers. With thousands of experts around the world and high-performance technology, ABB's team is dedicated to making measurement easy for its customers.

ABB (www.abb.com) is a leader in power and automation technologies that enable utility and industry customers to improve performance while lowering environmental impact. The ABB Group of companies operates in around 100 countries and employs about 140,000 people. In Canada, ABB has more than 5,000 employees from coast to coast.

About the Université Laval

Located in Quebec City, a world heritage city, Université Laval is the first francophone university in North America. It is at the forefront of the top 50 research universities in Canada, ranking eight with funds of more than $300 million allocated to research last year. Université Laval has over 3,200 professors, lecturers and other faculty members who share their knowledge with some 48,000 students, more than 10,000 are enrolled in graduate studies.

For more information:

Laurent Drissen, Full professor
Département de physique, de génie physique et d'optique
Faculté des sciences et de génie
Université Laval
418-656-2131, poste 5641

Nancy Rochette, Communications and Marketing Specialist
(Québec, Canada)
418-877-2944, Extension 356

Jean-François Huppé
Media relations
Université Laval
418 656-7785