Construction of world’s largest digital camera for astronomy is completed

The 3,200-megapixel camera will be mounted on telescope in Chile observatory.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory completed in late March the construction of the world’s largest digital camera for astronomy.

The lab said in a press release that the 3,200-megapixel camera will be mounted on the Simonyi Survey Telescope at the Vera C. Observatory in Chile to allow scientists see the Universe in unprecedented detail during the next ten years.

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It will target in particular dark matter and dark energy, supernovas, asteroids in our Solar System, and star systems across the Milky Way.

Vera C. Rubin Observatory is jointly funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and is a Program of NSF NOIRLab, which, along with SLAC lab, will cooperatively operate the Chile observatory.

“With the completion of the unique LSST Camera at SLAC and its imminent integration with the rest of Rubin Observatory systems in Chile, we will soon start producing the greatest movie of all time and the most informative map of the night sky ever assembled,” said Željko Ivezić, of Rubin and professor at University of Washington.

The camera is the size of a small car and weighs around 3,000 kilograms. Its front lens is over 1.5 meters across — the largest lens ever made for this purpose. Another lens, which is 90 centimeters wide, had to be specially designed to seal the vacuum chamber that houses the camera’s enormous focal plane.

That focal plane is made up of 201 individual custom-designed CCD sensors, and it is so flat that its surface varies by no more than a tenth of the width of a human hair. The pixels themselves are only 0.01 mm (10 microns) wide.

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The camera is capable of capturing in great detail a wide field of view – a single image at full size would need hundreds of ultra-high-definition TV sets to display the picture.

The camera will be shipped to Chile and mounted at a height of 2,737 meters above the sea level, on the Cerro Pachón in the Andes, by the end of this year.

The Simonyi Survey Telescope fitted with the new camera is expected to start new missions in January 2025.

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