LSST camera: Astronomers have unveiled the world’s largest digital camera

The world’s largest digital camera for astronomy is taller than a car, has as many pixels as 2666 iPhones and, over the next ten years, will help researchers study billions of galaxies


October 12, 2022

The LSST camera, the world’s largest digital camera

Jacqueline Ramseyer Orrell/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

At 1.65 meters tall, the world’s largest digital camera was unveiled at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California.

In late 2024, it will be installed at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory atop Cerro Pachón in Chile. At its home in the Andes mountains, it will survey about 20 billion galaxies over the next ten years as part of a project called the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST). The tens of terabytes of data that the LSST camera will collect each night will advance our knowledge of the universe, helping researchers unravel the nature of mysterious dark matter and better understand how galaxies form.

The LSST camera works like any other digital camera, but it’s much bigger. Its 189 sensors take the light emitted by objects such as stars and convert it into electrical signals that can be converted into digital images. Each sensor is about 16mm large and contains more pixels than a single iPhone. In total, the camera has 3.2 gigapixels and will capture images with a resolution high enough to see a speck of dust on the moon. Its largest lens, with a diameter of 1.57 meters, is the largest lens of its kind ever made.

LSST Camera project manager Vincent Riot says mounting the camera sensors was extremely expensive and any misalignments could easily damage them, so assembling them was like “parking Lamborghinis millimeters apart” .

In 2020, before lenses or shutters were installed on the camera, SLAC researchers tested the sensors by taking images of various objects, including a head of Romanesco broccoli, through a pinhole. Now, with all the other permanent pieces in place, the camera will be rigorously tested for five months to avoid having to deal with issues once it’s on top of a mountain, Riot says.

It then goes to Santiago, Chile on a chartered Boeing 747, where it will be transferred to a train car and sent to the top of Cerro Pachón, where it will give us a view of the universe like we’ve never had before.

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