Press Release

SuperWASP begins the search for thousands of new planets

By SpaceRef Editor
April 15, 2004
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A consortium of astronomers is tomorrow (April 16th) celebrating the
commissioning of the SuperWASP facility at the astronomical observatory
on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands, designed to detect
thousands of planets outside of our own solar system.

Only about a hundred extra-solar planets are currently known, and many
questions about their formation and evolution remain unanswered due to
the lack of observational data. This situation is expected to improve
dramatically as SuperWASP produces scientific results.

The SuperWASP facility is now entering its operational phase.
Construction of the instrument began in May 2003, and in autumn last
year the first test data was obtained which showed the instrument’s
performance to exceed initial expectations.

SuperWASP is the most ambitious project of its kind anywhere in the
world. Its extremely wide field of view combined with its ability to
measure brightness very precisely allows it to view large areas of the
sky and accurately monitor the brightnesses of hundreds of thousands of

If any of these have nearby Jupiter-sized planets then they may move
across the face of their parent star, as viewed from the Earth. While no
telescope could actually see the planet directly, its passage or
transit, blocks out a small proportion of the parent star’s light i.e.
we see the star get slightly fainter for a few hours. In our own solar
system a similar phenomenon will occur on 8th June 2004 when Venus will
transit the Sun’s disk.

One nights’ observing with SuperWASP will generate a vast amount of
data, up to 60 GB – about the size of a typical modern computer hard
disk (or 42000 floppy disks). This data is then processed using
sophisticated software and stored in a public database within the
Leicester Database and Archive Service of the University of Leicester.

The Principal Investigator for the Project, Dr Don Pollacco (Queens
University Belfast), said “While the construction and initial
commissioning phases of the facility have been only 9 months long,
SuperWASP represents the culmination of many years work from astronomers
within the WASP consortium. Data from SuperWASP will lead to exciting
progress in many areas of astronomy, ranging from the discovery of
planets around nearby stars to the early detection of other classes of
variable objects such as supernovae in distant galaxies”.

Dr Rene Rutten (Director of the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes) said
“SuperWASP is a very nice example of how clever ideas to exploit the
latest technology can open new windows to explore the universe around
us, and shows that important scientific programmes can be done at very
modest cost.”

The history of the project over the last ten years including the
exciting discovery of the Sodium Tail of Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997 can be
found at and enclosed web links.

The SuperWASP facility is operated by the WASP consortium involving
astronomers from the following institutes: Queen’s University
Belfast, University of Cambridge, Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias,
Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes (La Palma), University of Keele,
University of Leicester, Open University and University of St Andrews.

The SuperWASP instrument has cost approximately GBP 400K, and was funded
by major financial contributions from Queen’s University Belfast, the
Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council and the Open University.
SuperWASP is located in the Spanish Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory
on La Palma, Canary Islands which is operated by the Instituto de
Astrof=EDsica de Canarias (IAC).

Pictures of the SuperWASP facility and some of its astronomical
first-light images are available at

Notes for Editors

SuperWASP has a novel optical design comprising up to eight scientific
cameras (currently starting operation with five cameras), each
resembling in operation a household digital camera, and collectively
attached to a conventional telescope mount. SuperWASP has a
field-of-view some 2000 times greater than a conventional astronomical
telescope. The instrument, which will eventually be capable of running
under robotic control, is housed in its own customised building.

Other Web Links:

The SuperWASP project home page:
This includes background information and details of the project

The Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes (ING):

The Leicester Database and Archive Service (LEDAS): The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research

Council (PPARC):

Transit of Venus

Techinical Details

The SuperWASP facility consists of:

  • Solid State Detectors (CCDs) from Andor Technology (Belfast)
  • Canon Optics
  • Optical Mechanical Inc. Robotic Mount
  • Customised Enclosure by Jeremy Rainford of Gendall Rainford Products
  • (Cornwall)
  • Liebert Hiross Air-conditioning
  • GPS Time service by Garmin
  • Lightning protection equipment by Farrell Engineering (Dublin)
  • Computing by Dell, 3Com and APC

Further technical details can be found from the project home page at

SpaceRef staff editor.