CCD System Technology for Extremely Low Background Observations (GSC-13906)

Charge-coupled devices have proven to be exceptionally versatile and effective detectors for imaging wavelengths between the near-ultraviolet and the near-infrared portions of the spectrum. Although detector format/size and sensitivity have increased to meet demand, these larger detectors have technical limitations that impede high sensitivity, low-background observations. For example, cooling the detector to reduce dark current from the bulk silicon is difficult with large formats (e.g., 4096-by-4096 photo sensors or pixels) because the large surface absorbs thermal infrared photons from the environment, resulting in a much higher heat load. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center has devised an innovative CCD detector technology that provides improved performance for low-background observations. NASA¿s CCD detector system produces a clearer image than existing technology and reduces thermal infrared absorption by a factor of five. Other image improvements stem from increasing efficiency in the long wavelength spectral range (700 nm and toward red). The technology was originally developed for astronomy applications, but it has potential applicability in other areas. These commercial applications include bioluminescent probe manufacturing, combustion research, diagnostic imaging, and fluorescence microscopy. These applications benefit from the new technology¿s ability to increase efficiency of a CCD system in low-background (low-photon) environments.

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