Is this the most powerful camera in the world? Giant 3.2billion-pixel device will give us the ‘deepest view of the night sky ever seen’

  • The camera will take the equivalent of 800,000 images by an eight-mega pixel camera every night – but of a vastly superior quality
  • It will be housed in the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope in Chile
A telescope is being built that scientists say ‘will transform our understanding of the universe’.

The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) is being put together by the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in the U.S, which boasts in a statement that it ‘will capture the widest, fastest and deepest view of the night sky ever observed’.

This is because it packs a 3.2billion-pixel camera that will survey the entire visible sky every week, creating an unprecedented public archive of data – about six million gigabytes per year.

Snap happy: The camera on the LSST will ‘transform our knowledge of the universe’

The telescope will be place at Cerro Pachón in northern ChileThe telescope will be place at Cerro Pachón in northern Chile

This is the equivalent of shooting roughly 800,000 images with a regular eight-megapixel digital camera every night, but of much higher quality and scientific value.

Its deep and frequent cosmic vistas will help answer critical questions about the nature of dark energy and dark matter and aid studies of near-Earth asteroids, Kuiper belt objects, the structure of our galaxy and many other areas of astronomy and fundamental physics.

‘With 189 sensors and over three tons of components that have to be packed into an extremely tight space, you can imagine this is a very complex instrument,’ said Nadine Kurita, the project manager for the LSST camera at SLAC.

Size matters: This graphic shows just how big the LSST camera isSize matters: This graphic shows just how big the LSST camera is

High flyers: The mountain-top site in Chile should be operational by 2014High flyers: The mountain-top site in Chile should be operational by 2014

‘But given the enormous challenges required to provide such a comprehensive view of the universe, it’s been an incredible opportunity to design something so unique.’

‘This is the culmination of years of work by a large group of dedicated people,’ said SLAC’s Steven Kahn, LSST deputy project director. ‘I’ve personally been working on this since 2003, and it is tremendously satisfying to finally see this move forward to the point when we can begin to carry out the project.’

If all continues as planned, construction on the telescope will begin in 2014. Preliminary work has already started on LSST’s 8.4-metre primary mirror and its final site atop Cerro Pachón in northern Chile.

As the primary component of all energy in the universe, the still-mysterious dark energy is perhaps the most important research target for LSST and the physicists who are building it.

Yet that’s only a start. LSST’s fire hose of publicly available data will allow astronomers the world over to view faint and rapidly changing objects, create 3D maps and time lapses of the night sky and detail Pluto’s celestial neighbourhood, the Kuiper belt.

‘Not only should LSST revolutionize our understanding of the universe, its contents and the laws that govern its behaviour, but it will also transform the way all of us, from kindergarteners to professional astrophysicists, use telescopes,’ said Tony Tyson, LSST director and a professor of physics at the University of California, Davis. ‘These are exciting times!’

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