New 3,200-megapixel camera has stargazers salivating
The biggest in the world digital camera is finally developed. While a very powerful personal camera may have megapixel resolutionastronomers have built a device that will image the distant universe with 3.2 gigpixel resolution. (One gigapixel equals 1,000 megapixels.)
This camera will be the workhorse of the Vera C. Rubin Observatory Telescope, which has been in the works for about two decades but is nearing completion. At the end of September, scientists and technicians working in a huge clean room at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, California, finished assembling the sensitive camera’s mechanical components, and they are now moving on to the final pre-installation tests. .
“In the combination of the camera’s giant focal plane and a 25-foot mirror to collect the light, we’re unparalleled,” says Aaron Roodman, astrophysicist at SLAC and deputy director of the Rubin Observatory. He mentions that the 5.5ft lens, which comes with its own extra-large lens cap, and the focal plane are in the Guinness Book of World Records due to their extraordinary size.
Engineers will test the camera in about two months, and in May the team will take it on a chartered flight to the telescope site in the desert mountains of northern Chile. Scientists will perform the telescope’s first imaging tests in the second half of 2023, and they’re aiming for Rubin’s official debut, dubbed “first light,” in March 2024.
That’s when the telescope will begin collecting 20 terabytes of data every night for 10 years. With it, scientists will construct a vast map of the sky as seen from the Southern Hemisphere, including 20 billion galaxies and 17 billion stars in the Milky Way – a significant fraction of all galaxies in the universe and all stars of our own galaxy, says Roodman. They will also amass 6 million images asteroids and other objects in our solar system. Such a gigantic cosmic database would have been unthinkable until very recently.
This is the opposite of the approach used for the Hubble Where James Webb space telescopes, which zoom in to capture spectacular images of narrow slices of the sky. Instead, Rubin will repeatedly scan the entire southern sky – around 18,000 square degrees – collecting data on every visible object and imaging each area 825 times in a range of optical wavelengths. Rubin will also go further and map the cosmos more than his predecessors, such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and Dark Energy Investigation.
This fire hose of valuable data will come through this new nearly 3 ton camera. Its image sensor is made up of more than 200 custom-designed charge-coupled devices (CCDs), and they will take images with six filters covering the optical electromagnetic spectrum, from violet to the edge of infrared.
The camera will photograph every patch of sky every three days, providing snapshots that can be used together to examine faint or distant objects, or spot changing objects, such as supernova explosions and the trajectories of near-earth asteroids and comets moving slowly in their orbits. “It’s about making a color movie over 10 years,” says Risa Wechsler, a Stanford University astrophysicist and member of the Rubin Observatory’s science advisory board. “And on top of that, it’s stacking the frames of this movie to get a really deep picture. It’ll give us a map of all the galaxies, which plots where all the matter is, which is mostly dark matter. We’ll see what the universe looked like billions of years ago and will learn more about what dark matter is.