The largest digital camera ever made for astronomy is done

The LSST camera is expected to reveal new insights into our galaxy during its 10-year, ultra-wide survey of the sky.
By | Published: April 17, 2024

A digital camera the size of a sedan was recently completed with the hopes of gleaning new information about dark energy, dark matter, the Milky Way, and more. The Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) Camera will be mounted on the Simonyi Survey Telescope at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile later this year.

The new imager weighs 6,600 pounds (3,000 kilograms) and the lens is roughly the height of a small adult at 5 feet (1.5 meters) across. It has 3,200 megapixels, compared to about 48 megapixels for a digital camera on the market today.

According to a news release from National Science Foundation Noirlab, the field of view is so large that it would take hundreds of high-definition televisions to display one image at full size.

“Its images are so detailed that it could resolve a golf ball from around [15 miles (25 kilometers)] away, while covering a swath of the sky seven times wider than the full Moon,” said Rubin Observatory Deputy Director and Camera Program Lead Aaron Roodman.

Over a ten-year period, the camera is expected to map an array of night-sky objects. This includes looking for weak gravitational lensing, a phenomenon experienced when galaxies bend the light of objects behind them. This will help astronomers establish how mass is distributed across the universe. The camera will also look at clusters of dark matter and dark energy, supernovae, and focus on objects within our own solar system, such as asteroids. 

“With the LSST Camera at its core, Rubin Observatory will delve deeper than ever before into the cosmos and help answer some of the hardest, most important questions in physics today,” said Kathy Turner, program manager for the Department of Energy’s Cosmic Frontier Program.

The incredibly thin lenses and camera is currently being tested at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, Calif. However, it will soon be shipped from the SLAC facility to the Cerro Pachón in the Andes Mountains in Chile. There it will be mounted on the Simonyi telescope later this year, and will possibly begin operations in 2025.