The World's Most Powerful Camera Will Snap an Area 40x Bigger Than the Moon

Over ten years, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will observe more galaxies than there are people on Earth.

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Sep 1 2015, 12:20pm

The camera has a filter-changing mechanism and shutter, letting it view different wavelengths. Image: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

The world's most powerful digital camera has been given a construction green light by the US Department of Energy. Acting as a 3.2-gigapixel "eye" for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) based on top of a mountain in Chile, it's set to increase our understanding of the universe over a ten-year period.

Weighing in at roughly three tonnes (about the same as a jeep), the epic camera will be assembled at the DOE's National Accelerator Laboratory. From 2022, it will help researchers conduct a deep survey of the Southern night sky by taking detailed digital images every few nights from atop Cerro Pachón mountain in Chile.

The camera is expected, according to a press release, to "observe more galaxies than there are people on Earth," and to "capture full-sky images at such high resolution that it would take 1,500 high-definition television screens to display just one of them." Movies made with crystal-clear HD images are also expected to complement the vast photographic data and aid researchers in their quest to unravel the mysteries of the universe.

A rendering of the 3.2-gigapixel LSST digital camera. Image: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

The camera will be able to capture "an area of sky 40 times the size of the full Moon" in a single shot. It will work in conjunction with the LSST telescope, whose large field of vision and mirror combine to allow more light to be delivered from faraway astronomical objects than any other telescope in the world.

Key parts for the camera are already being assembled, with contracts currently being signed for optical elements and sensor fabrication already in the works. The camera comes with a filter-changing mechanism and shutter, which allows it to view light from near-ultraviolet to near-infrared wavelengths.

Ultimately, the LSST is expected to generate a huge mass of public archive of data, which will equate to "approximately six million gigabytes per year, or the equivalent of shooting roughly 800,000 images with a regular 8-megapixel digital camera every night."

The swathes of data will help researchers observe exploding stars, track asteroids, study the formation of galaxies, and map dark matter and dark energy—which make up roughly 85 percent of our universe—in unprecedented detail.