The world’s largest and sharpest digital camera ever created will power a state-of-the-art ground telescope which will gaze at the southern skies on an 8,900-foot-tall mountain in northern Chile.
The camera is the size of a small car, weighs 3 tons, and can capture images at the mind-numbing 3.2 gigapixel resolution. Its construction was funded mainly by the U.S. Department of Energy and in some aspects by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
The DOE gave the green light for the start of the construction of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) on Aug. 1, 2014, but the first stone was laid on Apr. 14, 2015. The camera is currently being built in a SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory’s facility in Menlo Park, Calif.
LSST is expected to be fully functional by 2022. It was mainly designed to survey the southern sky and take high resolution photos of the remotest of the galaxies every few nights. Scientists hope that the telescope would help them identify more galaxies than there are people on Earth in less than a decade, which would be an unprecedented feat.
LSST’s camera can also generate videos of the night sky in striking detail. But the storage space should be huge since the telescope is expected to deliver 6 million Gigabytes of data every year. And a single photo taken by the 3.2 gigapixel camera would need 1,500 HDTV screens to be properly displayed.
The telescope was funded by the DOE but financial support for a database required to store images, education purposes, and public outreach was provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Early this year, LSST’s main mirror was built and contractors are working “at full steam” to produce other telescope components. In the meantime, SLAC built a 2-story-high room for the camera to be built in it.
Astronomers hope that LSST would help them gain new insights into the dark matter and dark energy. They also expect the telescope to amp all small space bodies in our solar system, especially Near Earth Objects (NEOs) such as asteroids that may be a threat to life on Earth. LSST should also provide accurate imagery of novae and supernovae, and provide a clearer picture of the Milky Way.
The word “synoptic” in the LSST moniker comes from old Greek and means a “together view.” This has something to do with the fact that LSST’s camera can have an extensive view of the sky since it can capture a stretch of the sky 40 times larger than the full moon.
Every night, the LSST is expected to provide 30 terabytes of data. Google promised that it would select the most relevant imagery and upload it on an interactive sky map.
Image Source: Wikimedia