Space

World's most powerful digital camera gets the go-ahead

World's most powerful digital ...
Rendering of the LSST camera, which will be the size of a small car and weigh more than 3 tons
Rendering of the LSST camera, which will be the size of a small car and weigh more than 3 tons
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Visitors inspect SLAC’s newest clean room, which will serve as the assembly area for the 3.2-gigapixel camera of the LSST
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Visitors inspect SLAC’s newest clean room, which will serve as the assembly area for the 3.2-gigapixel camera of the LSST
This exploded view of the LSST’s digital camera highlights its various components, including lenses, shutter and filters
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This exploded view of the LSST’s digital camera highlights its various components, including lenses, shutter and filters
In one shot, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope's 3.2-gigapixel camera will capture an area of the sky 40 times the size of the full moon (or almost 10 square degrees of sky)
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In one shot, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope's 3.2-gigapixel camera will capture an area of the sky 40 times the size of the full moon (or almost 10 square degrees of sky)
Rendering of the LSST camera, which will be the size of a small car and weigh more than 3 tons
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Rendering of the LSST camera, which will be the size of a small car and weigh more than 3 tons

A smartphone with a 16-megapixel camera may seem cutting edge, but it won't impress astronomers now that the US Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory has given the green light to start construction of the world's largest digital camera. With a resolution of 3.2-gigapixels (enough to need 1,500 high-definition television screens to display one image), the new camera is at the heart of the 8.4-meter (27.5-ft) Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) now under construction atop Cerro Pachón in Chile.

Not surprisingly, the new camera is no lightweight. The three-mirrored device is the size of a small car, tipping the scales at over 3 tons (2.7 tonnes). It's the result of a wide partnership of institutions that include Brookhaven National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and SLAC, contains 189 sensors, has a resolution equivalent to 800,000 eight-megapixel cameras, and includes a filter-changing mechanism and shutter for viewing different wavelengths from the near-ultraviolet to the near-infrared.

Having passed Critical Decision 3, the last major approval decision, the camera will be built and tested over the next five years in a new 185-sq m (2,000-sq ft), two-story-tall clean room at SLAC in Menlo Park, California before being installed in the LSST.

This exploded view of the LSST’s digital camera highlights its various components, including lenses, shutter and filters
This exploded view of the LSST’s digital camera highlights its various components, including lenses, shutter and filters

In 2022, the camera and the LSST will begin a 10-year mission to take digital images of the entire Southern sky every few nights as part of a program to catalog the largest number of visible stars and galaxies yet, which is expected to generate about six million gigabytes of data per year. It's hoped that this will help astronomers to gain a better understanding of galaxy formations, aid in tracking potentially dangerous asteroids, and provide a better understanding of dark matter and dark energy, which is believed to make up 95 percent of the Universe.

"We’ve been working hard for years to get to this point,” said Nadine Kurita, camera project manager at SLAC. "Everyone is very excited to start building the camera and take a big step toward conducting a deep survey of the Southern night sky."

Source: SLAC

5 comments
carbon
"A smartphone with a 16-megapixel camera may seem cutting edge, but it won't impress astronomers" Probably because they know that the number of megapixels, or even gigapixels, is not a measure of image quality. That is why a 16 megapixel phone does not cost as much as the same DSLR, nor does it compare in image quality. Not all pixels are created equal. In comparison, medium format or large format film is capable of rendering gigapixel images if the quality of the lens, the photography, and the digital scanning is done right. I can create a 3.2 gigapixel image with only about ten shots using an off-the-shelf DSLR. I routinely combine as many as 100 images from my DSLR using a programmable Gigapan, which renders images more like 320 gigapixels, I prefer my DSLR. I can carry it. Probably the really critical factor for their sensor is light sensitivity, not pixels.
Bruce Miller
This is the future! Staring into space with a real time super eye!
Ed Llorca
6 million gigabytes is better expressed as 6 petabytes... guess the author didn't know that. As for Carbons comments I wasn't aware that there are off the shelf DSLR cameras with 320 megapixel sensors. A 24Mpxl camera will need 134 shots to equate to 3.2Gpxl not just 10.
Graham
The reason pixel count is not so directly related to image resolution is the aperture (and quality) of the lens, and the size of the sensor. Try two close objects on a moon image (say) only just seen as separate. They will merge to appear as a single, still focussed, object if one reduces the aperture of the front lens using a card with a smaller hole cut in it. The "photon mosaic" information is finer, having higher resolution when with larger aperture. This is why my old 5Mpixel Nikon takes better resolution images than my 12Mpixel smartphone. Photons arriving withing 1/4 wavelength of each other behave as if a single wavefront. Count up the pixels, crammed onto the sensor size. Does the spacing approach light wavelengths? Check out the lens aperture. You will see the reason we have astronomical telescopes with large objectives. Smartphone spatial resolution is poor, and much of the pixel area is dynamically re-addressed to give anti-shake stability compensation, pan ability, and "electronic zoom".
mr79
Sounds pretty fantastic, but can you just imagine the size of the carrying case... or the tripod?