World's largest 3.2 billion-pixel digital camera project passes critical milestone

April 24, 2012, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
The LSST camera will be the largest digital camera ever constructed. Its size of roughly five feet by 10 feet is similar to that of a small car and it will weigh over three tons. It is a large-aperture, wide-field optical imager designed to provide a 3.5° field of view with better than 0.2 arcsecond sampling. The image surface is flat with a diameter of just over two feet. The detector format will be a mosaic of 16 megapixel silicon detectors providing a total of approximately 3.2 billion pixels. Credit: Image Courtesy of the LSST Corporation

A 3.2 billion-pixel digital camera designed by SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory is now one step closer to reality. The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope camera, which will capture the widest, fastest and deepest view of the night sky ever observed, has received "Critical Decision 1" approval by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to move into the next stage of the project.

The (LSST) will survey the entire visible sky every week, creating an unprecedented public archive of data – about 6 million gigabytes per year, the equivalent of shooting roughly 800,000 images with a regular eight-megapixel 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 3 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. "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."

The LSST camera will be the largest digital camera ever constructed. Its size of roughly five feet by 10 feet is similar to that of a small car and it will weigh over three tons. The camera includes a filter changing mechanism and shutter. It is positioned in the middle of the telescope where cross sectional area is constrained by optical vignetting and heat dissipation must be controlled to limit thermal gradients in the optical beam. The camera will produce data of extremely high quality with minimal downtime and maintenance. Credit: Image Courtesy of the LSST Corporation

Now that the LSST camera has passed Critical Decision 1, the project begins a detailed engineering design, schedule, and budget phase. While the DOE funds the design and construction of the camera, the full cost and logistics of the new telescope are being shared by the DOE and the National Science Foundation, as well as a large partnership of public and private organizations in the United States and abroad.

"This is the culmination of years of work by a large group of dedicated people," said SLAC's Steven Kahn, LSST deputy project director and leader of the DOE-funded effort on LSST. "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-meter 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 and detail Pluto's celestial neighborhood, the Kuiper belt.

"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. "These are exciting times!"

Explore further: Google joins Large Synoptic Survey Telescope project

Related Stories

Large Synoptic Survey Telescope deemed top priority

August 18, 2010

( -- The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), in which Lawrence Livermore plays a large role, has been ranked by a key scientific committee as the top priority for the next large ground-based astronomical facility.

Congressional Hearing on Asteroid Threat

November 7, 2007

UC Davis physics professor J. Anthony Tyson will testify before Congress on Thursday, Nov. 8, on near-Earth asteroids. Tyson will talk about the potential role of the proposed Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) in surveying ...

A Game of Tolerances

July 11, 2007

Contamination is the enemy for Large Synoptic Survey Telescope collaborators Rafe Schindler and a team of SLAC scientists and technicians working in Light Assembly Building 33. The clean room, which requires shoe covers, ...

Peek Into the Depths of the Universe - With Your iPhone

April 15, 2010

( -- Transient Events, a new iPhone application for amateur and professional astronomers and anyone interested in the universe, highlights cosmic events such as exploding supernovae, comets traveling through the ...

Recommended for you

Asteroid 2002 AJ129 to fly safely past Earth February 4

January 22, 2018

Asteroid 2002 AJ129 will make a close approach to Earth on Feb. 4, 2018 at 1:30 p.m. PST (4:30 p.m. EST / 21:30 UTC). At the time of closest approach, the asteroid will be no closer than 10 times the distance between Earth ...

A new bound on axions

January 22, 2018

An axion is a hypothetical elementary particle whose existence was postulated in order to explain why certain subatomic reactions appear to violate basic symmetry constraints, in particular symmetry in time. The 1980 Nobel ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2.4 / 5 (5) Apr 24, 2012
Telescope? I thought that this was a camera. I notice the conspicuous absence of a telephoto lens in the photo. I don't think that magnification is the point here, so much as illuminaton - that is, gathering knowledge from data for researchers to analyse.
2.3 / 5 (9) Apr 24, 2012
10 Bucks says some dude will attempt to take a pic of his penis with it. FACT.
5 / 5 (2) Apr 24, 2012
I so glad this project is getting support from DOE "Thank you DOE" I remember seeing a talk on youtube a few years back .They've upgraded the camera since then .The telescope itself should survey the entire (almost) sky every few days ,Fast Deep and Wide was their slogan .Excellent for asteroids especially near Earths ,shared interest of NASA ,so they said ,hoping for funding .Also for spotting supernova quickly .An advantage time to slew some more specialized scopes and if that wasn't enough the data is public access
5 / 5 (4) Apr 24, 2012
Telescope? I thought that this was a camera.

It is a camera but it will be used in the LSST 8.4m telescop.

It will be an amazing instrument and will bring much new knowledge.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.