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Ultra-large sensor tracks faint meteors and more

An ultra-large-scale, ultra-high-sensitivity CMOS sensor developed by Canon has enabled video recording of meteors with an equivalent apparent magnitude of 10. Apparent magnitude is a measure of a star's brightness as seen by an observer on Earth. The brighter the celestial body appears, the lower the value of its apparent magnitude. The darkest star visible to the naked eye has an apparent magnitude of approximately 6.

The sensor, with a chip size measuring 202 x 205mm, has the world's largest surface area for a CMOS sensor (as at 12 September 2011). It has been installed in the Schmidt telescope at the University of Tokyo's Kiso Observatory.

The ultra-large-scale, ultra-high-sensitivity CMOS sensor is among the largest that can be produced from a 300mm (12-inch) wafer. The sensor is approximately 40 times the size of Canon's largest commercial CMOS sensor – the  21.1 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor used in the EOS-1Ds Mark III and EOS 5D Mark II cameras. It makes possible video recording in dark conditions with as little as 0.3 lux (the level of brightness during a full moon).

Detecting faint meteors with apparent magnitudes greater than 7 has proven difficult using conventional observation technologies, with sightings of meteors with an equivalent apparent magnitude of 10 limited to only ten per year. However, video recorded using the new CMOS sensor, combined with the Schmidt telescope (which enables observation across a wide field-of-view), yielded a one-minute segment during which more meteors with an equivalent apparent magnitude of 10 could be detected than could previously be identified during the span of a year.

Statistical analysis of the video data could lead to an increased understanding of the influence that meteors may have exerted on the development of life on Earth.

Additionally, because the combination of the CMOS sensor and Schmidt telescope facilitates the highly efficient investigation of objects traveling at high speeds across the sky, it makes possible the detection of an increased number of celestial phenomena in addition to meteors, such as space debris
and heavenly bodies moving in the solar system. The technology is expected to contribute to improved measuring accuracy in determining the position and speed of these objects.


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