The U.S. Department of Energy has green-lit the construction of a 3.2-gigapixel digital camera for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). Once complete, the instrument will be used by astronomers to study everything from the Big Bang to the motions of nearby asteroids.

The LSST is expected to detect tens of billions of objects over the course of a 10-year span. It’ll be the first time that a telescope will observe more galaxies than there are people on Earth. The telescope will also help scientists determine the properties of dark matter and dark energy in the universe.

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“This is the largest ground-based telescope being built with U.S. federal funding in this decade,” noted Scot Olivier of LLNL. “It’s the [top] ranked project coming out of the decadal survey.... It will be the world’s premier astronomical survey facility for the next decade and beyond.”

And as the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) just announced, the LSST will also be equipped with the world’s largest camera.

Once complete, it’ll be about the size of a small car and weigh more than three tons. The camera will capture images at an extraordinary 3.2-gigapixel resolution. To put that into perspective, it would take 1,500 high-definition television screens to display a single picture snapped by the camera.

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The camera is being built by an international collaboration of universities and labs, including the LLNL, Brookhaven national labs, and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford.

Approved last year, the wide-field survey reflecting Large Synoptic Survey Telescope is currently being built on the El Peñón peak of Cerro Pachón, a 1.6 mile (2.6 km) high mountain in northern Chile. It will feature an impressive 8.4 meter primary mirror that will scan the entire available southern sky every few nights. The $27.5 million telescope will enter into its initial testing and calibration phase in 2019, and is expected to be fully operational by January 2022.

The Large Synoptic Survey Telscope (Credit: Stanford University)

One of the cooler aspects of the LSST project is that it will be made available to anyone with a computer, including students and the public.

“The broad range of science enabled by the LSST survey will change our understanding of the dynamic universe on timescales ranging from its earliest moments after the Big Bang, to the motions of asteroids in the solar system today,” LSST Director Steven Kahnin said a statement. “The open nature of our data products means that the public will have the opportunity to share in this exciting adventure along with the scientific community.”

[ LLNL ]


Email the author at george@io9.com and follow him at @dvorsky. Top image by LLNL