The world’s largest-ever digital camera is currently being assembled and readied to be installed at the Vera Rubin Observatory, Chile. With a resolution of 3,200 megapixels, the images are so huge and detailed that you could spot a golf ball 20 miles away.
The camera is the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) and will photograph half the Southern sky every 3 days. Every week astronomers, astrophysicists and cosmologists will have a complete image of the entire sky in that region.
“We will see dimmer objects than people have looked at before in an area on the sky,” said astrophysicist Aaron Roodman, lead scientist for camera assembly and testing. “People have done things deep, but they’ve been in tiny regions of the sky.”
The new camera will essentially be taking photographs of the distant past, as it takes light so long to reach it from such distant parts of the universe.
The images will be taken every 15 seconds and will allow researchers to keep a close eye on asteroids travelling close to the earth, understanding dark matter and dark energy and the structure and formation of the Milky Way. By photographing the sky in such a comprehensive and regular manner, scientists will be able to see what is changing and how is it changing.
The camera itself is as you’d imagine, rather complex. It has 6 rotating filters that can be changed depending on the sky conditions and on what the operator is trying to photograph. These filters will allow photographs to be made across different bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, from near ultra-violet to near infra-red.
The camera is 5 feet wide and 10 feet long and incorporates 189 CCDs that make up the sensor. Once installed it will be positioned between 3 mirrors to help it capture the large area of sky. Because of the size and complexity, the camera is not exactly portable, and much of the engineering feat will be getting the camera from its assembly location in California to the mountain top in Chile. The pandemic has delayed the installation, although the team are expecting it to be in place by the Summer of 2022.
Even though the camera will be installed in a designated Dark Sky location, it will still have to contend with light pollution, primarily from passing satellites including SpaceX’s Starlink, which will be visible in approximately 30% of the images. Even so, this camera will be an incredible tool that will help answer more questions about our world, our galaxy and the universe.
Every day the camera is expected to collect 60 Petabytes of data, and I thought I had storage issues!