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Published on April 13, 2024
Giant Leap for Astrophotography, SLAC Unveils Titan Camera to Unlock Cosmos' SecretsSource: Google Street View

After two dedicated decades, scientists have completed the world's largest digital camera at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, a mammoth instrument that promises to capture the southern night sky with unparalleled clarity. The 3,200-megapixel Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) Camera, described as "roughly about 250 iPhone cameras" by staff engineer Hannah Pollek, is to soon take up residence in Chile's Rubin Observatory.

SLAC researchers explained that it was a challenge to even construct a device of this scale, with mechanical engineer Pollek comparing the meticulous placing of expensive sensors to "parking million dollar sports cars within one inch of each other." Hannah Pollek told ABC7 News. The camera, however, is set to do much more than snapping high-resolution pictures—it's intended to fill in gaps of knowledge about dark matter and dark energy, furthering our understanding of the cosmic origins.

Soon to be hoisted atop a mountain in the Andes, the LSST Camera's capabilities have been a source of anticipation among the astrophysics community. "The camera is designed to capture many galaxies, distant galaxies. And from those galaxies, what the images will tell us how the universe evolves," LSST at SLAC Project Scientist Yousuke Utsumi revealed in an ABC7 News interview.

Boasting a high resolution that could "resolve a golf ball from around 15 miles away," the LSST Camera also encompasses a swath of the sky seven times wider than the moon. "Its images are so detailed that it could resolve a golf ball from around 15 miles away while covering a swath of the sky seven times wider than the full moon. These images with billions of stars and galaxies will help unlock the secrets of the universe," said SLAC professor and Rubin Observatory Deputy Director and Camera Program Lead Aaron Roodman in an announcement from SLAC.

As the astronomical community eagerly awaits the first fruits of this titan of technology, Kathy Turner, program manager for the DOE’s Cosmic Frontier Program, stressed the importance of expanding our understanding of fundamental physics by peering deeper into the cosmos. “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,” she said, according to SLAC’s announcement.

The unveiling of the world's largest digital camera is a testament to the combined efforts of laboratories and numerous researchers. Among those, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and France's National Institute of Nuclear and Particle Physics (IN2P3/CNRS) contributed technology and expertise that were pivotal in bringing the camera to life. SLAC looks forward to leveraging the camera's first images next year, promising a new lens to gaze upon space.