Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope research & development

The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) on Maunakea, Hawaii, is jointly owned and operated by the National Research Council (NRC), the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique of France and the University of Hawaii.

Since becoming operational in 1979, this 3.6-metre telescope has provided scientists around the world with the capability to conduct scientific research, including optical and infra-red imaging, high resolution spectroscopy and multi-object spectroscopy. To keep pace in the competitive world of astronomy, new capabilities, including one of the largest astronomical cameras in the world – MegaCam, are continuously added to the facility.

While CFHT's main users are from Canada, France and Hawaii, collaborative agreements also offer telescope access to astronomers in Europe, Taiwan, Brazil, South Korea and China. These collaborations have yielded many major astronomical developments over the past few decades; from techniques for the discovery of extra-solar planets, to the best characterization to date of the nature of dark energy in the universe, and spatially resolving Pluto and Charon for the very first time.


Collaboration Opportunities

Over the years, NRC's multidisciplinary scientific and instrumentation development expertise has contributed extensively to the quality of research activities undertaken at the facility, and to the very development of instrumentation capabilities available for use in individual and collaborative projects. With scientists and engineers working side-by-side on collaborative projects, NRC engineers understand the effects of technical designs on astronomical research, while their astronomer peers provide critical insight into end-user requirements.

Technology in support of science: instrumentation projects

In order to stay relevant as new observatories and more powerful telescopes have been developed over the past two decades, new instrumentation has been developed to increase CFHT productivity and discovery potential. NRC is not only a joint owner-operator at the CFHT facility, but it is actively involved in many of the engineering projects to further the technical capability of the telescope.

Working with private companies and other research partners on CFHT design, construction and subsequent instrumentation projects, NRC has helped advanced industrial research capabilities in important fields such as high-resolution imaging that have valuable cross-over applications in other health and ICT sectors. Canadian involvement in CFHT has also helped create new capabilities and market opportunities for engineering and manufacturing companies through engagement in the development of telescope structural enclosures.

Gemini Remote Access to CFHT ESPaDOnS Spectrograph (GRACES)

NRC is leading this cooperative effort to allow starlight gathered by Gemini to be fed into a specialized instrument at the Canada-France-Hawaii-Telescope (CFHT), allowing users to learn more about the characteristics of objects in space. Project Overview.

Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE)

MSE is a proposed upgrade to the existing 3.6-m CFHT, to replace it with a 10-m-class, wide-field telescope dedicated to extreme multi-object spectroscopy. NRC led the Feasibility Study for this project and is involved in numerous aspects of the ongoing Construction Proposal Phase, scheduled for completion in 2017.

SpectroPolarimètre Infra-Rouge (SPIRou)

SPIRou is a near-infrared spectropolarimeter and high-precision velocimeter being designed as a new instrument for CFHT, with first light planned for 2017. The main science goals of SPIRou are the search and characterization of habitable exo-Earths around low-mass stars, and the study of the magnetic topology of young protostars as a tool for investigating star/planet formation mechanisms. The SPIRou collaboration involves many institutions within the CFHT community. NRC is contributing the design of the cryogenic spectrograph subsystem.

Advancing our understanding of the universe: science projects

Over the past three decades, CFHT research has had a serious impact on our understanding of the universe. Canadian astronomers have used CFHT facilities and instrumentation to advance our understanding of dark energy and dark matter, supernovae, the discovery of solar system bodies beyond Neptune in the Kuiper Belt and faint galaxies in the Virgo Cluster.

The CFHT Legacy Survey

Canada and France combined a significant portion of their telescope time from mid-2003 to early 2009 for a large project; the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Legacy Survey (CFHTLS). The data acquisition and calibration have been a major undertaking for the Canadian and French communities: more than 2300 hours over 5 years (an equivalent of 450 nights) have been devoted to the survey using the wide field optical imaging camera MegaCam, a 1 degree by 1 degree field of view 340 Megapixel camera. The CFHTLS has contributed to a range of scientific questions, from the measurement of the cosmic expansion rate to the measurement of the structure of the solar system. NRC contributed both scientific expertise and, through the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre (CADC), primary distribution of data products and calibration.

Pan-Andromeda Archaeological Survey (PAndAS)

PAndAS is a large survey using the CFHT designed to explore the structure and content of the nearest large galaxy to the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and its close neighbour, the Triangulum Galaxy (M33). To date, more than 300 hours of CFHT time have been used to resolve millions of stars in these galaxies using CFHT's 340 megapixel imager, MegaCam.

Next Generation Virgo Cluster Survey (NGVS)

The NGVS is a CFHT large program to image the Virgo cluster of galaxies — the dominant mass concentration in the local universe and the largest galaxy collection within 100 million light years — from its core to its virial radius. This 100 square degree region (equivalent in area to about 500 full moons) is being mapped in five optical filters using MegaCam. The NGVS team is comprised of about 45 scientists at research institutes across Canada and the world, including NRC and the University of Waterloo.

The team recently discovered hundreds of new galaxies in the Virgo Cluster, suggesting that galaxy formation on small scales may be more complicated than previously thought. Based on data collected over the course of 6 years with Megacam, a 340 Megapixels camera at CFHT, the NGVS team was able to observe the cluster in its entirety, at a depth and resolution that significantly exceeds those of any existing survey.

The Outer Solar System Origins Survey

The Outer Solar System Origins Survey is an imaging survey using 400 hours of observing time with the CFHT's mosaic imaging camera and will map out the structure of the region of the solar system beyond Neptune. This survey, a continuation of the Canada-France Ecliptic Plane Survey (CFEPS), will discover over 500 new Kuiper belt objects whose orbits and physical properties will provide the information needed to better understand how planets form.

Contact us

To find out more about our collaborative research and technology development at the CFHT, please contact:

JJ Kavelaars
Telephone: 250-363-8694

Targeted industries

Astronomy, Aerospace, Information and communications technologies

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