World’s Largest Digital Camera Project Passes Critical Milestone

Media Contacts

April 24, 2012

Menlo Park, Calif. — A 3.2 billion-pixel digital camera designed by SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory is now one step closer to reality. The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope camera, which will capture the widest, fastest and deepest view of the night sky ever observed, has received “Critical Decision 1” approval by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to move into the next stage of the project.

The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will survey the entire visible sky every week, creating an unprecedented public archive of data – about 6 million gigabytes per year, the equivalent of shooting roughly 800,000 images with a regular eight-megapixel digital camera every night, but of much higher quality and scientific value. Its deep and frequent cosmic vistas will help answer critical questions about the nature of dark energy and dark matter and aid studies of near-Earth asteroids, Kuiper belt objects, the structure of our galaxy and many other areas of astronomy and fundamental physics.

“With 189 sensors and over 3 tons of components that have to be packed into an extremely tight space, you can imagine this is a very complex instrument,” said Nadine Kurita, the project manager for the LSST camera at SLAC. “But given the enormous challenges required to provide such a comprehensive view of the universe, it’s been an incredible opportunity to design something so unique.”

Now that the LSST camera has passed Critical Decision 1, the project begins a detailed engineering design, schedule, and budget phase. While the DOE funds the design and construction of the camera, the full cost and logistics of the new telescope are being shared by the DOE and the National Science Foundation, as well as a large partnership of public and private organizations in the United States and abroad.

“This is the culmination of years of work by a large group of dedicated people,” said SLAC’s Steven Kahn, LSST deputy project director and leader of the DOE-funded effort on LSST. “I’ve personally been working on this since 2003, and it is tremendously satisfying to finally see this move forward to the point when we can begin to carry out the project.”

If all continues as planned, construction on the telescope will begin in 2014. Preliminary work has already started on LSST’s 8.4-meter primary mirror and its final site atop Cerro Pachón in northern Chile.

As the primary component of all energy in the universe, the still-mysterious dark energy is perhaps the most important research target for LSST and the physicists who are building it. Yet that’s only a start. LSST’s fire hose of publicly available data will allow astronomers the world over to view faint and rapidly changing objects, create 3D maps and time lapses of the night sky and detail Pluto’s celestial neighborhood, the Kuiper belt.

"Not only should LSST revolutionize our understanding of the universe, its contents and the laws that govern its behavior, but it will also transform the way all of us, from kindergarteners to professional astrophysicists, use telescopes,” said Tony Tyson, LSST director and a professor of physics at the University of California, Davis. “These are exciting times!"

SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. The DOE-led LSST camera project at SLAC was begun under the auspices of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, a joint institute of SLAC and Stanford University. To learn more, please visit www.slac.stanford.edu.

LSST project activities are supported in part by a Cooperative Agreement with the National Science Foundation managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), and the Department of Energy. Additional LSST funding comes from private donations, grants to universities, and in-kind support from LSSTC Institutional Members:

Adler Planetarium; Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL); California Institute of Technology; Carnegie Mellon University; Chile; Cornell University; Drexel University; Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory; George Mason University; Google, Inc.; Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Institut de Physique Nucléaire et de Physique des Particules (IN2P3); Johns Hopkins University; Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) - Stanford University; Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network, Inc.; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL); Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL); National Optical Astronomy Observatory; National Radio Astronomy Observatory; Princeton University; Purdue University; Research Corporation for Science Advancement; Rutgers University; SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory; Space Telescope Science Institute; Texas A & M University; The Pennsylvania State University; The University of Arizona; University of California at Davis; University of California at Irvine; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; University of Michigan; University of Pennsylvania; University of Pittsburgh; University of Washington; Vanderbilt University.

More information about the LSST including current images, graphics, and animation can be found at http://www.lsst.org.