Not for your selfies

Exploded view of the LSST’s digital camera highlights its various components, including lenses, shutter and filters. Credit: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

The US Department of Energy has approved the construction of a 3.2 Gpixel camera, some 200 times the number of pixels of a very good digital camera today.

The goal is to get snapshots of the sky with an unprecedented resolution photographing tens of billions of stars over a period of 10 years, starting in 2022, the target date for its deployment on the top of an observatory in the Chilean Desert.

Everything is big with this camera, not just the number of pixels.

It will weight 3.5 tons and have a size of a small car. Every night is expected to take the equivalent of 800,000 photos taken with an 8 Mpixel camera producing over 6 million GB (6PT) worth of data every year.

To get an idea of the kind of resolution, if you were to display a single image taken by this camera using HDTV screens you would need 1,500 of them!

Clearly, making sense of all these data is going to be the real challenge once the camera will start to operate. It is close to impossible to make sense of all the stars you can see with your naked eyes (in the Southern hemisphere, up in the Northern one there is much less to see, and if you add light pollution from our cities the number of stars you can see are just a few), just imagine making sense of thousands times more stars.

Help will come from software with computers replacing our eyes to look at the photos.

Scientists expect to find some clues to the presence of dark matter and dark energy, something that should exist out there according to our understanding of the physical law. 
There might also be some down to Earth fallout: by understanding the skies and the distribution of energy scientists bet they will be able to increase our efficiency in converting energy on the Earth. This is why the bill for the camera is being footed by the US Department of Energy.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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