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Visiting the World’s Largest Digital Camera


The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) is a telescope that will contain the largest digital camera ever built. Here’s a 4-minute video in which the folks at Gizmodo pay a visit to the 3.2-gigapixel camera that’s the size of a small car.

A rendering that shows the size of the LSST camera.

The telescope is currently under construction in the Andean foothills of Chile. When completed, it will be used to photograph full views of the night sky in the entire southern hemisphere twice a week.

We first reported on the camera in 2011 and then its funding in 2015.

“The LSST will be the most advanced survey of the night sky yet,” Gizmodo writes. “Unlike the Hubble Space Telescope, which peers at individual objects or small patches of the sky, the LSST will create a movie of the entire night sky. Light that suddenly appears out of darkness could signal a supernova, and other changes could indicate the presence of the universe’s mysterious gravitational scaffolding, called dark matter, or the force driving it apart, called dark energy.”

The camera in the LSST will contain 189 separate 16-megapixel CCD imaging sensors aligned on a perfectly flat plane. Kept in a vacuum at -150°F (-100°C), the sensors are ultra-cooled for minimal noise and zero dust.

In front of the sensors, the largest lens element that directs light measures 5 feet (1.55m) in diameter.

And the camera will need much more than dual memory card slots: it may capture a whopping 15 terabytes of data in a single night.

The engineering first light is expected this year, the science first light is scheduled for 2021, and full operations for a 10-year survey are set to begin in January 2022.