Deputy Project Manager Travis Lange shines a flashlight into the LSST Camera, which has a 5-foot-wide lens.

Scientists built the largest digital camera ever, 3 tons heavy with a 5-foot lens, for astronomy.The LSST camera is designed to take thousands of 3,200-megapixel images of the entire southern sky.A telescope in Chile will use it to study dark energy, dark matter, and potentially hazardous asteroids.

The world’s largest digital camera is finally complete in a laboratory in Menlo Park, California.

The SUV-sized Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) Camera weighs about 6,200 pounds — roughly 3 metric tons — and its front lens is more than five feet wide.

An LSST camera technician takes a selfie on the inside of the camera.

The LSST camera has to be that big to achieve its mission of taking a 10-year digital survey of the entire southern sky, scanning the whole area every few nights, eventually creating the largest astronomical movie ever.

“No one has ever looked at so much of the universe so frequently,” Aaron Roodman, deputy director of the Rubin Observatory and camera program lead, told Business Insider.

LSST isn’t just a fun project to break records, though. Among its breakthrough science goals, the camera can also track down large, city-killer-sized asteroids so that NASA can identify any space rocks that might threaten Earth.

The camera’s heft will also help investigate the mysterious dark energy and dark matter that fills our universe and puzzles scientists.

Scientists and engineers at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory built this leviathan lens over two decades and to the tune of $168 million.

Finally, it’s complete, ready to ship off to the Rubin Observatory in Chile, high in the Andes mountains. Engineers plan to mount it to the observatory later this year.

The camera will sit here atop the Rubin Observatory’s Simonyi Survey Telescope, high in the Andes of Chile.

A full-sky panorama, but 10 years long

Photos from the LSST camera will contain 3,200 megapixels.

One megapixel is one million pixels. An ultra-high-definition, or 4K, TV can only display about 8 megapixels. To show an image from the LSST camera in its full resolution, you would need hundreds of ultra HD TVs.

“Its images are so detailed that it could resolve a golf ball from around 15 miles away while covering a swath of the sky seven times wider than the full moon,” Roodman said in a press release.

LSST could spot a golf ball on the moon in an image covering this much of the sky. The camera would have to be much closer, though — only 15 miles away.

LSST is designed to take about 1,000 images each night, stitching them together to make one extremely detailed image of the entire southern sky every few nights. Over 10 years, and tens of thousands of images, it should have what researchers are calling a 3D movie of the universe.

“This method allows us to observe changes in more than 20 billion galaxies, tracking both their movements and how they change,” Travis Lange, deputy project manager of the SLAC LSST team, said in a video on the project last month.

There are thousands of galaxies in this image from the James Webb Space Telescope. Images from LSST will contain billions of galaxies.

Because of its diligence, LSST should be able to capture all kinds of cosmic events in real time.

Catching the universe red-handed

Ultra-sensitive space observatories like the James Webb Space Telescope have scheduled time to point at specific objects and aren’t always able to pivot at the last minute toward emerging supernovas or interstellar visitors passing through our solar system.

The Crab Nebula photographed by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.

LSST won’t have to pivot at all. If something is happening in the southern sky, this giant camera should spot it as it surveys the whole area.

That’s what will allow the new camera to discover asteroids in our neighborhood that may have flown undetected so far.

“We’ll be able to see things smaller than other telescopes have seen,” Roodman told BI. “And since we’re surveying so quickly, we really do expect to see a lot of what’s out there.”

The LSST is also designed to send out alerts to astronomers whenever it identifies something new or changing in the sky. That gives astronomers the chance to turn their telescopes to observe new supernovae, black-hole mergers, and other astronomical phenomena in every wavelength of light, gathering more data than ever about these dynamic events.

The survey is also likely to uncover new types of objects and events in deep space, Roodman said.

Hunting for dark clues

LSST’s ability to track galaxies’ changes over a decade will also give scientists fresh insight into how the universe has evolved over time. That’s key to understanding dark energy and dark matter.

Dark energy is the name scientists have given to the mysterious force that is causing the universe to expand faster and faster. Dark matter is some type of matter that takes up space and has mass but doesn’t seem to interact with light.

Together, dark energy and matter make up the vast majority of the universe, and nobody knows what they are. LSST could help find clues.

“If you look at one galaxy, you can’t tell anything. But if you look at hundreds of millions or billions — and we will look at billions of galaxies — you can see patterns across the sky,” Roodman said. “You can see the imprint of how matter is distributed in the universe.”

Read the original article on Business Insider


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