With a weight of three tons and the proportions of a small car, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will be the biggest digital camera in the world, both in terms of physical size and giga-capacity.
Perched atop Cerro Pachón, in the deserts mountains of Chile’s northern Andes, the LSST will sweep the entire star-filled sky every three nights.
That means that every night, it will capture the equivalent of 800,000 8-megapixel images and gather 30 terabytes of data.
To put its capacity in perspective, the LSST will be able to capture an area 49 times larger than the moon in a single image
Those images are expected to help unlock some of the great secrets of the universe; it’s hoped that dark energy and dark matter, near-Earth asteroids and Kuiper belt objects will all be seen in new light.
In fact, in the most recent survey of astronomical priorities, astronomers chose the LSST as the most anticipated project in the world.
All those expectations came one step closer to fruition in late April, when the project received the “Critical Decision 1″ (CD-1) approval by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Now, the challenge begins for the engineers and project directors to detail designs, schedules, and budgets for this groundbreaking telescope.
“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 National Accelerator Laboratory. “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.”
Perhaps the best news for lay astronomers and the general public is that the data generated from the LSST will be made publicly available.
Anyone, anywhere in the world with internet access will be able to view the images, and the LSST will provide the analytical tools to enable everyone to participate in the process of scientific discovery.
“Not only should LSST revolutionize our understanding of the universe, its contents and the laws that govern its behavior, 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.
The DOE is funding the project, along with the U.S. National Science Foundation, as well as a large partnership of public and private organizations from around the world.
Preliminary work has already started, and construction on the telescope is expected to begin in 2014.