The world’s largest digital camera is about to be completed, which may help solve the biggest mysteries of the universe


Menlo Park, California – The world’s largest digital camera is nearing completion. Engineers at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory are finishing work on a 3.2 billion pixel LSST camera – capable of seeing a golf ball from 15 miles away!

About the size of a small car and weighing three tons, the camera features a five-foot-wide front lens and a 3,200-megapixel sensor that is cooled to -100 degrees Celsius to reduce noise. Although the camera wasn’t quite complete, all of its mechanical components are now together for the first time in a clean room in the lab. It took seven years to build, and is scheduled to be shipped to the Fira C Rubin Observatory in Chile in April 2023.

Once installed, the camera will produce panoramic images of the entire southern sky – one panorama every few nights for ten years.

A SLAC spokesperson explains in a statement.

LSST camera
This photo: Engineer Hannah Bulik, right, watches closely as the LSST camera is raised to portrait position. Researchers at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory are nearing completion of the LSST camera, the world’s largest digital camera built for astronomy. About the size of a small car and weighing three tons, the camera features a five-foot-wide front lens and a 3,200-megapixel sensor that is cooled to -100 degrees Celsius to reduce noise. Once complete and placed atop the Vera C. Rubin Observatory’s Simony Survey Telescope in Chile, the camera will survey the southern night sky for a decade, creating a set of data that scientists will search for a better understanding of some of the universe’s biggest mysteries, including the nature of dark energy and matter. dark. (Jacqueline Ramseer Orel/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

The team at SLAC is testing the shutter and filter exchange system, two dynamic components that were also recently installed. Before the end of the year, the camera will undergo one final adjustment: the installation of an updated cooling system.

Using the LSST camera, the observatory hopes to shed light on questions that astronomers and other scientists have long been asking without success.

The focal plane of the camera has unusual characteristics. Not only do they contain 3.2 billion pixels, but their pixels are also very small – about 10 microns – and the focal plane itself is very flat, differing by no more than a tenth the width of a human hair. This allows the camera to produce sharp images at a very high resolution.

The focal plane width is just over two feet, which is huge compared to the 1.4-inch-wide imaging sensor of a full-frame consumer camera and big enough to capture a portion of the sky the size of 40 full moons. Finally, the entire telescope is designed so that its imaging sensors can detect objects 100 million times fainter than those visible with the naked eye – a sensitivity that allows you to see a candle from thousands of miles away.

LSST camera
This photo: LSST camera (Credit: Jacqueline Ramseyer Orrell/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

The images are so large that it takes 378 Ultra HD 4K TV screens to view one in full size, and the resolution is so high that you can see a golf ball from about 15 miles away. These and other properties are expected to lead to unprecedented research in astrophysics.

The LSST camera at Rubin Observatory is having a moment, and it’s one that’s getting media attention. Although the camera is not yet complete, all of its mechanical components are now together for the first time – in a single optical body. The team at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory facilitated media visits to the clean room while placing the camera so that visitors could see the impressive focal plane (containing 189 CCDs) through the camera’s lenses.

When they aren’t answering questions about the 3,200-megapixel camera that will capture images of the 10-year Rubin Observatory for Space and Time Legacy, the team at SLAC is testing the shutter and filter exchange system, two dynamic components that were also recently installed. The sensor array will then be integrated into the world’s largest digital camera, currently under construction at SLAC. After the final test, it will be installed at the Rubin Observatory in Chile, which is expected to take place in May 2023.

LSST camera
This photo: From left, Crew Engineer Diane Haskell, Personnel Engineer Margo Lopez, Principal Mechanical Engineer Travis Lang, Senior S&E Tech Mechanical Andy Hau, Mechanical Engineer Hannah Bulik, and Prin S&E Tech Electro-Mech Mike Silva. (Credit: Jacqueline Ramseyer Orrell/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

Reporting by Dean Murray, Southwest News Service


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