The biggest digital camera in the world, both in terms of physical size and giga-capacity, just won an early approval from the U.S. Department of Energy, which is funding the project. The camera for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will now proceed to a detailed engineering and design phase, another step toward the start of construction in two years.
From its perch in the Chilean Andes, the LSST will make a survey of the entire sky every three nights, snapping the equivalent of 800,000 8-megapixel images and gathering 30 terabytes of data every night. The camera required to do this is a 3-ton monster, capable of capturing an area 49 times the size of the moon in a single image. Its deep, wide-field images will capture anything from near-Earth asteroids to the properties of dark matter and dark energy.
The most recent decadal survey of astronomical priorities placed the LSST at the top of the list, with astronomers anticipating many detailed returns from a telescope that will spot new phenomena in near real-time. It will take images in five or more bands of the light spectrum, from 400nm to 1060nm (visible to infrared light).
Now that it's achieved "Critical Decision 1" status, the camera project can start a formal design and building phase, following a specific budget and time frame. The DOE and the National Science Foundation are sharing the cost of the entire telescope project, with the DOE funding the camera portion. The telescope is supposed to start construction by 2014.
While the camera design review progresses, work has already started on the telescope's 8.4-meter primary mirror and the telescope's home atop Cerro Pachón in northern Chile.
"capable of capturing an area 49 times the size of the moon in a single image"
Hate to be that guy, but point any camera at the sun, and you'll be taking a picture of an area 49 times the size of the moon, assuming that phrase means "surface area".
Might as well express it's data rate in library of congresses while you're at it, or it's shutter speed in parsecs.
That is a great visible range, note from 400nm to 1060nm (visible to infrared light). Using 400 nm is a good way to see organics similar to a black light when finding organic left stains or creepy crawlers like scorpions in my neck of the woods -- desert.
@semibreve42: I think you misunderstood what they meant. The moon subtends 0.5 degrees on the sky (so does the Sun by the way) and the LSST camera has a field-of-view of 3.5 degrees on the sky. For simplicity, if you assume two boxes on the sky with side lengths of 0.5 degrees (moon) and 3.5 degrees (camera), then the ratio of camera to moon area is 3.5^2/0.5^2=49. For imaging of anything, it's the angular size that matters rather than the actual size.
"The project continues to seek a National Science Foundation grant of nearly $400 million. $7.5 million is included in the U.S. president's FY2013 NSF budget request."
The DOE will now likely fund the digital camera but that will still cost only a small amount of the 400 million project. Together with the 30 million by Bill Gates and Charles Somonyi that only leaves us some 350 Million Dollars short that needs to be paid for by the NSF. And THAT while the NSF is already having large funding problems. I don`t see the NSF approving this telescope unless money starts falling from trees. Or if they scrap other big projects. Lets be realistic.
And by the way. That NSF Grant they are hoping for to build this telescope. The Giant Magellan Telescope and the Thirty Meter Telescope are also competing for that exact same NSF grant money. Which they all desperately need to construct their expensive telescopes. YET people!! Only 1 will be awarded that grant because it is NSF budget money that goes all the way till 2020. Why aren`t news agencies giving more attention to these important facts. The scientists and universities working on these separate projects certainly won`t because they don`t want to suggest their own project could be cancelled.
And let me ask any of you. Would you want to see the LSST, the GMT or the TMT get constructed? I`ll go for the TMT myself.
To be specific, the cost of ~$400 million is the total estimated cost through first light operations (sometime near the end of the decade) so they don't need all $400 million this year. They have a nice website for both the public and scientists so everyone should check it out if you're interested in more details (the link is in the article).
Unfortunately, the reality of the NSF budget is that they really only have funding for ~1-2 "major" construction projects at a time (this includes ALL NSF funding, not just astronomy). Actually, the real danger isn't that LSST won't get built (its high ranking in the decadal survey almost 100% ensures that it will), but that funding will have to be taken away from lots of other smaller projects. This means fewer grants to individuals, which means fewer jobs for grad students and postdocs, which means more people will leave astronomy forever.
@Greenmatrix: You're right that the GMT and TMT are both competing for NSF funds. Of course, those projects are not 100% funded by the NSF. Both have funding from private universities, endowments, individual donors, and other countries (though some countries want NSF funding before they'll buy in, an important point). In the end, I think LSST, GMT, and TMT will all get built. It will just be at the cost of other smaller, more numerous projects. On the upside, all three will be incredible facilities!
Sorry for the political note, but I find it sad that so much money (many, many millions) is dumped into things like political campaign donations while science funding continues has to scrape by.
Lets hope it all gets build. But i`m not so sure anymore. Just look at all the previous cancelled projects. The SuperSyncroton Super Collider that would have been better then the European LHC. The VentureStar to replace the Shuttle. The Constellation project to replace the Shuttle and return to the moon. The James Webb still is in doubt with launch dates now pushed back till 2018 at the earliest. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Looking at funding i think the GMT could actually be build. They have secured half of the 700 Million budget. But the TMT is far short of the roughly 1.2 Billion Dollars they would need. They only have 300 million and that was mainly because the Gorden and Betty Moore Foundation provided it with 200 Million Dollars. That leaves 800 million short. And i`ve just seen an article in which the NSF actually says they don`t even have the money to help 1 big telescope. This in contrast with earlier articles claiming they were competing for the grant money.
The camera also updates to instagram and takes 8 days to upload an image to facebook.