Here’s some rather interesting news for anyone interested in digital photography or cutting edge technology - scientists working for America’s ‘SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory’ have announced the first successful test of the world’s largest SLR camera - 3,200 Megapixels! It’s an astounding feat, and something that will open exciting new possibilities for astronomical research.
The LSST Camera, as it’s known, is due to be installed in the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile mid-2021. Once set up, it will embark on a 10-year project to map the position and movement of billions of stars that make up the Southern Sky.
Vera Rubin was an extremely influential American astronomer who is credited with discovering Dark Matter, which is hypothesized to make up 85% of the matter in the universe. She was also an outspoken advocate of women in science, and fought constantly to pave the way for other women in a field that was extremely male-dominated. An astounding woman!
So how does the LSST Camera compare to an ordinary DSLR you can buy on our site? If you’ve read our article on the basics of digital cameras, you’ll know that the sensor is the crucial part of the camera that captures the light of what the lens is ‘seeing’ and starts to turn it into a digital image.
In a standard digital camera the sensor is rarely more than a few millimeters wide - enough to take images we’d think were highly detailed. By comparison, the sensor array of the LSST Camera is over 2 feet wide, and the whole camera is the size of a small SUV! It comprises 189 powerful sensors, arranged into 25 groups mounted on individual platforms called ‘rafts’. It took 6 months to construct, and was an astoundingly difficult procedure - the rafts had to be manually slotted together leaving a gap of less than 5 human hairs! As if that wasn’t bad enough, the sensors are extremely fragile and the cost of replacement was $3 million per raft! I hope they had very steady hands!
When active, the sensor array (or ‘focal plane’) will be cooled to about -100 °C to minimize signal noise to allow for the clearest picture possible. The clearer the better: the LSST Camera will be so sensitive that it can detect objects *100 million* times dimmer than those visible to the naked eye!
The scale of the pictures that the LSST Camera will produce is staggering. 3,200 Megapixels is the equivalent of 3.2 Gigapixels. To give an idea of the scale, you would need 378 4K TVs just to display one at its full resolution. Over the course of it’s 10-year mission, the camera will generate 15 terabytes of data every night as it catalogues the heavens!
Now that it is finished, the LSST Camera waits for a few more components - such as the lens and shutter systems - before it is fully operational. When that time comes, the Vera C. Rubin Observatory will be home to the largest Digital SLR Camera in the world!