20th May 2024

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Technology and Computer

PHOTOS: World’s largest digital camera built by Stanford scientists

  • After two decades of work, Stanford scientists and engineers at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and their collaborators are celebrating the completion of the largest digital camera ever built.

  • Scientists with SLAC, which is short for Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, say the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) Camera is roughly the size of a small car and weighs about 3 metric tons.

  • The 3,200-megapixel camera will help scientists explore the night skies.

(KRON) – After two decades of work, Stanford scientists and engineers at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and their collaborators are celebrating the completion of the largest digital camera ever built, all in the name of astronomy. 

Scientists with SLAC, which is short for Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, say the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) Camera is roughly the size of a small car and weighs about 3 metric tons. The camera’s front lens is estimated to be 3 feet wide — the largest lens ever made for this purpose. Its focal plane has 201 individual custom-designed sensors, which scientists say are no more than “a tenth the width of a human hair.”

(SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)
The Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) camera team is seen after installing the first of 21 science rafts — 3-by-3 arrays of state-of-the-art imaging sensors. Together they’ll take unprecedented 3,200-megapixel images of the night sky, which, over time, will produce the world’s largest astrophysical movie. (Farrin Abbott/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

According to scientists, the camera’s resolution is so high it would take hundreds of high-resolution TVs to display just one of its images at full size.

“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,” said SLAC professor Aaron Roodman, also the deputy director of the Rubin Observatory and the camera program lead.

“These images with billions of stars and galaxies will help unlock the secrets of the universe.”

SLAC’s LSST crew begins to lift the utility trunk and cryostat in preparation for placement onto the BOT inside the IR-2 clean room. (Jacqueline Ramseyer Orrell/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

The 3,200-megapixel camera will help researchers observe our universe in unprecedented detail. Over the next 10 years, it will generate an enormous trove of data that researchers will mine for new insights into the universe, mainly toward a better understanding of dark energy — a mysterious substance that accounts for 85% of the matter in the universe.

This camera’s creation will also help in understanding the Milky Way. Researchers expect to produce a far more detailed map of our galaxy, yielding insights into its structure and evolution, as well as the nature of stars and other objects within it.

Big picture aside, the camera will help in exploring “small objects” in our own solar system. According to Rubin Observatory estimates, the project may increase the number of known objects tenfold. This could lead to a new understanding of how our solar system formed and perhaps help identify threats from asteroids that get a little too close to the planet.

(SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

Scientists will also examine how the night sky is changing — for example, how stars die or how matter falls into supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies.

“With the completion of the unique LSST Camera at SLAC and its imminent integration with the rest of Rubin Observatory systems in Chile, we will soon start producing the greatest movie of all time and the most informative map of the night sky ever assembled,” said Željko Ivezić, the director of Rubin Observatory Construction.


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