Vera Rubin’s Monster 3200-Megapixel Camera Takes its First Picture (in the Lab)

The Vera C. Rubin Observatory[1] has taken another step towards first light, projected for some time in 2022. Its enormous 3200 megapixel camera just took its first picture during lab testing at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory[2]. The camera is the largest ever built, and its unprecedented power is the driving force behind the Observatory’s ten year Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST).

When paired with the 8.4 meter primary mirror, the camera is an impressive, data-producing monstrosity. Its focal plane contains 189 separate charge-coupled devices (CCDs) that each capture 16 megapixels. Each 3200 megapixel image would take 378 4K ultra-high-definition TV screens to display.

Each image is so huge, that a single one captures an area of sky equivalent to 40 full moons. The team behind the camera says that the image sensors are so powerful that it’ll be able to “see” objects that are 100 million times dimmer than the naked eye could see. A SLAC press release points out that at that level of sensitivity, you could see a candle from thousands of miles away.

“These unique features will enable the Rubin Observatory’s ambitious science program.”

Steven Ritz, project scientist, LSST Camera, University of California, Santa Cruz.

“This is a huge milestone for us,” said Vincent Riot, LSST Camera project manager from DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “The focal plane will produce the images for the LSST, so it’s the capable and sensitive eye of the Rubin Observatory.”

SLAC’s Steven Kahn, director of the observatory, said in a press release[3], “This achievement is among the most significant of the entire Rubin Observatory Project. The completion of the LSST Camera focal plane and its successful tests is a huge victory by the camera team that will enable Rubin Observatory to deliver next-generation astronomical science.”

For ten years, the observatory will capture over 20 terabytes of data each night. By the end of its ten year survey, it will have produced 60 petabytes.

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