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Preliminary decision made to build world’s largest digital camera

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory’s project to build the world’s largest digital camera advanced last week as it gained Critical Decision 1 approval by the Department of Energy. The project, called the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) camera, would create a 3.2-billion-pixel digital camera to take data on the visible sky.

“With 189 sensors and over three tons of components that have to be packed into an extremely tight space, you can imagine this is a very complex instrument,” Nadine Kurita, project manager for the LSST camera, said to the SLAC News Center. “But given the enormous challenges required to provide such a comprehensive view of the universe, it’s been an incredible opportunity to design something so unique.”

The camera will take data on the entire sky in weekly cycles, generating 6 petabytes, or 6 million gigabytes, of data every year. This data could be critical for future research on both objects near Earth, such as asteroids, and larger questions, like the nature of dark matter.

Having passed the Critical Decision 1 stage, the project will move on to detailed designs, budgeting and timelines. However, some work has already begun on the camera’s main mirror, which will measure 8.4 meters across. Preparations are also underway at the final site for the camera, on top of Cerro Pachón, a mountain near the Chilean city of Vicuña.

If further approvals are met, full-scale construction on the camera will begin in 2014.


-Matt Bettonville