Schmidt camera

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Optical ray paths inside a Schmidt camera
The 77 cm Schmidt-telescope from 1966 at Brorfelde Observatory was originally equipped with photographic film, and an engineer is here showing the film-box, which was then placed behind the locker at the center of the telescope (at the telescope's prime focus)

A Schmidt camera, also referred to as the Schmidt telescope, is a catadioptric astrophotographic telescope designed to provide wide fields of view with limited aberrations. Other similar designs are the Wright Camera and Lurie–Houghton telescope.

Invention and design[edit]

The Schmidt camera was invented by German optician Bernhard Schmidt in 1930.[1] Its optical components are an easy-to-make spherical primary mirror, and an aspherical correcting lens, known as a Schmidt corrector plate, located at the center of curvature of the primary mirror. The film or other detector is placed inside the camera, at the prime focus. The design is noted for allowing very fast focal ratios, while controlling coma and astigmatism.[2]

Schmidt cameras have very strongly curved focal planes, thus requiring that the film, plate, or other detector be correspondingly curved. In some cases the detector is made curved; in others flat media is mechanically conformed to the shape of the focal plane through the use of retaining clips or bolts, or by the application of a vacuum. A field flattener, in its simplest form a planoconvex lens in front of the film plate or detector, is sometimes used. Since the corrector plate is at the center of curvature of the primary mirror in this design the tube length can be very long for a wide-field telescope.[3] There are also the drawbacks of having the obstruction of the film holder or detector mounted at the focus half way up the tube assembly, a small amount of light is blocked and there is a loss in contrast in the image due to diffraction effects of the obstruction and its support structure.[4]

Applications[edit]

The 2 meter diameter (Alfred-Jensch-Telescope at the Karl Schwarzschild Observatory in Tautenburg, Thuringia, Germany is the largest Schmidt camera in the world.

Because of its wide field of view, the Schmidt camera is typically used as a survey instrument, for research programs in which a large amount of sky must be covered. These include astronomical surveys, comet and asteroid searches, and nova patrols.

In addition, Schmidt cameras and derivative designs are frequently used for tracking artificial earth satellites.

Ground based[edit]

The first relatively large Schmidt telescopes were built at Hamburg Observatory and Palomar Observatory shortly before the Second World War. Between 1945 and 1980, about 8 more large (1 meter or larger) Schmidt telescopes were built around the world.[5]

One particularly famous and productive Schmidt camera is the Oschin Schmidt Telescope at Palomar Observatory, completed in 1948. This instrument was used in the National Geographic Society - Palomar Observatory Sky Survey (POSS, 1958), the POSS-II survey, the Palomar-Leiden (asteroid) Surveys, and other projects.

The European Southern Observatory with a 1 meter Schmidt telescope at La Silla and the UK Science Research Council with a 1.2 meter Schmidt telescope at Siding Springs Observatory engaged in a collaborative sky survey to complement the first Palomar Sky Survey, but focusing on the southern hemisphere. The technical improvements developed during this survey encouraged the development of the second Palomar Sky Survey.[6]

The telescope used in the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth-Object Search (LONEOS) is also a Schmidt camera. The Schmidt telescope of the Karl Schwarzschild Observatory is the largest Schmidt camera of the world.

Space based[edit]

A Schmidt telescope was at the heart of the Hipparcos satellite from the European Space Agency(1989–1993). This was used in the Hipparcos Survey which mapped the distances of more than a million stars with unprecedented accuracy - this included 99% of all stars up to magnitude 11. The spherical mirror used in this telescope was extremely accurate; if scaled up to the size of the Atlantic Ocean, bumps on its surface would be about 10 cm high.[7]

The Kepler photometer, mounted on the Kepler probe, and orbiting since March 2009, is the largest Schmidt camera launched into space.

Other applications[edit]

Starting in the early 1970s, Celestron marketed an 8-inch Schmidt Camera. The camera was focused in the factory and was made of materials with low expansion coefficients so it would never need to be focused in the field. Early models required the photographer to cut and develop individual frames of 35 mm film as the film holder could only hold one frame of film. About 300 Celestron Schmidt Cameras were produced.

The Schmidt system was popular, used in reverse, for television projection systems. Large Schmidt projectors were used in theaters but systems as small as 8-inches were made for home use and other small venues.

Derivative designs[edit]

Lensless Schmidt[edit]

Prior to Schmidt's design, the solution to spherical aberration was to place an aperture stop at the center of curvature of the mirror, stopping the aperture to f/10. This removes spherical aberration while preserving the wide field of the short focal-length mirror. However, it does so at the cost of light-gathering ability. Although this solution was well-known long before Bernhard Schmidt invented his corrector plate, the design is sometimes given the retronym "lensless Schmidt".

Schmidt-Väisälä[edit]

Prof. Yrjö Väisälä originally designed an "astronomical camera" similar to Bernhard Schmidt's "Schmidt camera", but the design was unpublished. Väisälä did mention it in lecture notes in 1924 with a footnote: "problematic spherical focal plane". Once Väisälä saw Schmidt's publication, he promptly went ahead and solved the field-flattening problem in Schmidt's design by placing a doubly convex lens slightly in front of the film holder. This resulting system is known as: Schmidt-Väisälä camera or sometimes as Väisälä camera.

Baker-Schmidt[edit]

In 1940, James Baker of Harvard University modified the Schmidt camera design to include a convex secondary mirror, which reflected light back toward the primary. The photographic plate was then installed near the primary, facing the sky. This variant is called the Baker-Schmidt camera.

Baker-Nunn[edit]

One of the Baker-Nunn cameras used by the Smithsonian satellite-tracking program.

The Baker-Nunn design, by Dr. Baker and Joseph Nunn, replaced the Baker-Schmidt camera's corrector plate with a small triplet corrector lens closer to the focus of the camera. It used 55 mm Cinemascope film.[8][9] A dozen f/0.75 Baker-Nunn cameras with 20-inch apertures – each weighing 3.5 tons including a multiple axis mount allowing it to follow satellites in the sky – were used by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory to track artificial satellites from the late 1950s to mid-1970s.[10]

Mersenne-Schmidt[edit]

The Mersenne-Schmidt camera consists of a concave paraboloidal primary mirror, a convex spherical secondary mirror, and a concave spherical tertiary mirror. The first two mirrors (a Mersenne configuration) perform the same function of the correcting plate of the conventional Schmidt. This form was invented by Paul in 1935[11] A later paper by Baker[12] introduced the Paul-Baker design, a similar configuration but with a flat focal plane.[13]

Schmidt-Newtonian[edit]

The addition of a flat secondary mirror at 45° to the optical axis of the Schmidt design creates a Schmidt-Newtonian telescope.

Schmidt-Cassegrain[edit]

The addition of a convex secondary mirror to the Schmidt design directing light through a hole in the primary mirror creates a Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.

The last two designs are popular with telescope manufacturers because they are compact and use simple spherical optics.

List of Schmidt cameras[edit]

A short list of notable and/or large aperture Schmidt cameras.

Selected Large Schmidt Cameras by Year
Observatory Aperture Year(s) Note
Palomar Observatory 40 cm 1936 first in North America
Palomar Observatory 122 cm 1948 the Samuel Oschin telescope
Hamburg Observatory 80 cm 1954 Moved to Calar Alto Observatory in 1974
Karl Schwarzschild Observatory 134 cm 1960 Largest aperture[14]
Kvistaberg Observatory 100 cm 1963 Largest in Scandinavia [15]
La Silla Observatory 100 cm 1971 ESO[16]
UK Schmidt Telescope 120 cm 1973 At Siding Spring Observatory in Australia
Kepler photometer 95 cm 2009 Largest in space

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ ast.cam.ac.uk (The Institute of Astronomy (IoA), at the University of Cambridge (UoC)) - The Schmidt Camera
  2. ^ Wright, Franklin B. (1959). "Theory and Design of Aplanatic Reflectors Employing a Correcting Lens". In Ingalls, Albert G.. Amateur Telescope Making Advanced. Scientific American. pp. 401–409. 
  3. ^ Telescope Optics - SCHMIDT
  4. ^ "Obstruction" in optical instruments
  5. ^ Cannon, R. D. (1995). Schmidt Telescopes: Their Past, Present and Future (Vol. 84, p. 8). Presented at the IAU Colloq. 148: The Future Utilisation of Schmidt Telescopes. Retrieved from [1]
  6. ^ Pratt, N. M. (1977). The COSMOS measuring machine. Vistas in Astronomy, 21, 1-42. [2]
  7. ^ ESA - Space Science - Hipparcos overview
  8. ^ http://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/1992PASAu..10...74C
  9. ^ http://www.dvdaust.com/film_formats.htm
  10. ^ SeeSat-L Nov-96 : Baker-Nunn Camera
  11. ^ M. Paul (May 1935). "Systèmes correcteurs pour réflecteurs astronomiques". Revue d'Optique Theorique et Instrumentale 14 (5): 169–202. 
  12. ^ Baker, J.G. (1969). "On improving the effectiveness of large telescopes". Aerospace and Electronic Systems, IEEE Transactions on (IEEE) (2): 261–272. Bibcode:1969ITAES...5..261B. doi:10.1109/TAES.1969.309914. 
  13. ^ Vladimir Sacek. "Paul-Baker and other three-mirror anastigmatic aplanats". 
  14. ^ http://www.tls-tautenburg.de/TLS/index.php?id=51&L=1
  15. ^ http://www.astro.uu.se/history/Schmidt.html
  16. ^ ESO: "National and Project Telescopes at ESO’s La Silla Observatory" (accessed November 12, 2010)

External links[edit]