Plans for an enormous telescope, equipped with a 3.2 billion-pixel camera, are ready for detailed designs, its creators announced on April 24. When completed, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will take photos of every inch of visible night sky every week for 10 years in a kind of time-lapse picture that will provide scientists with unparalleled views of the universe. The telescope is projected for ‘first light’ in 2014 atop the Cerro Pachón mountain in Chile's Atacama Desert -the world's Southern Hemisphere space-observatory mecca. Researchers have started work on its 8.4-meter (27.6-foot) mirror and on preparing its construction site.
The telescope's research team, which received Critical Decision 1 approval from the U.S. Department of Energy, will now begin to make in-depth designs, a schedule and a budget. Department of Energy projects go through five critical decision stages, according to the department document posted online.
“With 189 sensors and over 3 tons of components that have to be packed into an extremely tight space, you can imagine this is a very complex instrument,” said Nadine Kurita, the project manager for the LSST camera at SLAC. “But given the enormous challenges required to provide such a comprehensive view of the universe."
The LSST will gather 6 million gigabytes of data annually, and its detailed images will provide astronomers with new insights into dark energy, dark matter, near-Earth asteroids and the Kuiper belt, a region just beyond Neptune's orbit where Pluto and other icy objects carve their paths in space. It will also help researchers track asteroids that threaten Earth.
All the LSST's data will be publicly available, so "anyone with a computer will be able to fly through the Universe, zooming past objects a hundred million times fainter than can be observed with the unaided eye."
Though the telescope was originally scheduled for completion this year, SLAC now says construction will start in 2014.
SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. The DOE-led LSST camera project at SLAC was begun under the auspices of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, a joint institute of SLAC and Stanford University.
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