Wide Angle Search for Planets

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 History of SuperWASP

In the 1990's, Don Pollacco together with the team at ING, La Palma, developed a series of cameras with wide fields of view, known as the CoCam cameras. These devices used cryogenically cooled CCDs and were mounted on a commercial telescope mount for guidance, and were primarily used for wide field studies of comets Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp and the zodiacal light. However, tests at the time showed that good photometric performance could be obtained.

At the same time world-wide interest was growing in such devices, with unique capabilities being identified in the detection of gamma-ray bursts and transits of extra-solar planets. Such facilities were constructed in North America, and plans for similar systems were developed at Leicester University, Queen's University Belfast and St. Andrews in the UK. The first (unsuccessful) application for significant funding in this area was by led by the Leicester team. This envisaged a single detector system that would continuously map the whole sky primarily in search of transient events. This project was named WASP - The Wide Angle Survey Patrol.

The current WASP project (now Wide Angle Search for Planets) began 1999/2000 as a collaboration between Queen's University and the University of St. Andrews. Don Pollacco, now of Warwick University, built the WASP0 camera which was mounted "piggy-back" style on a commercial Celestron equatorial mount (below). Observations were made from the Canary Island of La Palma during the summer of 2000.

This instrument consisted of an Apogee 10, 14-bit 2kx2k CCD and a 6.3cm, F/2.8 lens, which gave it a field of view 9 degrees on a side. The first pipeline for data reduction was developed at St Andrews. The 2000 season observations concentrated on two fields: the head of Draco and a field centred on the one known transiting star, HD 209458.

The 2000 HD 209458 observations proved that WASP0 could achieve the photometric precision needed to detect planetary transits: below is the WASP0 light curve for HD 209458 on 2000/08/08. A transit of HD 209458b is shown in the curve. The lower curve shows the same dataset for comparison stars. The WASP0 instrument was then moved to Kyroneri in Greece for observations in the summer of 2002.

In mid 2000 Cambridge University, Leicester University, Queen's University of Belfast and St. Andrews University joined forces with the Isaac Newton Group to apply for research council funding to build a robotic 16-bit single-camera facility. Its purpose would be the detection of extra-solar planets, near-Earth asteroids and comets, and optical transients. The application led by Don Pollacco was approved by PPARC in January 2001 in a difficult funding round.

Later that year, Queen's University Belfast agreed to provide and uplift in funds of 200% to enable the construction of a 4-camera system, to ensure that the now christened SuperWASP system would be the best in its class. These funds arrived at the start of 2002, allowing a full design of the system to be made over the few months. During this time, development of the software required to analyse the huge quantities of data generated by the system started in earnest at St. Andrews and Belfast. The design of the complex archiving system necessary for the data products was started at Leicester University, which also agreed to provide the necessary hardware for the dataset. At this time the Open University also secured funding and joined the project, buying additional hardware from a supplier on eBay - by now the only place to source the required lenses.

In early 2003 Keele University joined the SuperWASP consortium and provided funding for a second observatory (SuperWASP-South) to be located in Southerland, South Africa. Construction of the SuperWASP-South observatory was completed at the end of 2005 and full robotic observations started in March 2006. Both observatories are now running constantly in robotic mode and the flow of data and subsequent reduction continues.

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University of Cambridge Isaac Newton Group, La Palma  Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias University of Keele Leicester University The Open University Queens University Belfast St. Andrews University Warwick University