3.2 billion-pixel Large Synoptic Survey Telescope camera comes a step closer to reality
By Ben Coxworth
May 2, 2012
Although the pixel count for consumer cameras continues to rise, they will all pale in comparison to the 3,200-megapixel Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) camera. Although the enormous astronomical camera has yet to be built, last week the U.S. Department of Energy gave its approval for the project to proceed to the next phase of development. This means that a detailed engineering design can begin, along with a production schedule and budget. If everything goes according to plan, construction on what will be the world’s largest digital camera should begin in 2014.
The three-mirrored camera will be an essential part of the telescope, needless to say, surveying the entire visible night sky twice every week. It will take over 800 panoramic images every night, gathering about 6 million gigabytes of data a year. Its light-gathering power will be amongst the highest in the world, allowing it to image faint celestial objects using relatively short exposures.
It was designed at the SLAC (Stanford Linear Accelerator Center) National Accelerator Laboratory, which describes what the camera will be doing as “equivalent of shooting roughly 800,000 images with a regular eight-megapixel digital camera every night, but of much higher quality and scientific value.”
A total of 189 sensors and over 3 tons (2.7 tonnes) of components will be tightly packed into its cylindrical body. Work has already begun on the telescope’s 8.4-meter (27.5-foot) primary mirror, at the final site of the observatory on the Cerro Pachón ridge in northern Chile.
Plans for the LSST include studies on things such as dark energy and dark matter, detection of near-Earth asteroids, and analysis of the structure of the galaxy. Data will be available to anyone with internet access.