The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will peer into space as no other telescope can. This new facility will create an unparalleled wide-field astronomical survey of our universe – wider and deeper in volume than all previous telescopes combined. The combination of a 3200 megapixel camera sensor array, a powerful supercomputer, a cutting-edge data processing and distribution network, and a massive telescope stationed on a mountaintop in Chile promises to cast light on mysteries fundamental to our understanding of the universe. From the distant signatures of dark energy to the dangers of near-earth asteroids, LSST will capture it all. Three central considerations dictated the design of LSST: wide, fast, and deep.
WIDE A 3.5-degree field of view will produce a complete survey of the entire night sky every three days, an impossible task for a smaller device.
FAST Rapid 15-second exposures will chart the changes in space with 800 panoramic shots a night, tracking phenomena from the redshift at the edge of the universe to fast-moving asteroids closer to home.
DEEP The sensitive camera array will ultimately image five billion galaxies, catching the subtle glow of the far-reaches of space in unprecedented detail.
The known forms of matter and types of energy experienced here on Earth account for only 4 percent of the universe. The remaining 96 percent, though central to the history and future of the cosmos, remains shrouded in mystery. Two tremendous unknowns present one of the most tantalizing and essential questions in physics: What are dark energy and dark matter? LSST aims to expose both.
Dark Energy: Something is driving the universe apart, accelerating the expansion begun by the Big Bang. This force accounts for 70 percent of the cosmos, yet is invisible and can only be “seen” by its effects on space. Because LSST is able to track cosmic movements over time, its images will provide some of the most precise measurements ever of our universe’s inflation. Light appears to stretch at the distant edges of space, a phenomenon known as redshift, and LSST may offer the key to understanding the cosmic anti-gravity behind it.
Dark Matter: Einstein deduced that massive objects in the universe bend the path of light passing nearby, proving the curvature of space. One way of observing the invisible presence of dark matter is examining the way its heavy mass bends the light from distant stars. This technique is known as gravitational lensing. The extreme sensitivity of the LSST, as well as its wide field of view, will help assemble comprehensive data on these gravitational lenses, offering key clues to the presence of dark matter. The dense and mysterious substance acts as a kind of galactic glue, and it accounts for 25 percent of the universe.
From its mountaintop site, LSST will image the entire visible sky every few nights, capturing changes over time from seconds to years. Ultimately, after 10 years of observation, a stunning time-lapse movie of the universe will be created.
As the LSST stitches together thousands of images of billions of galaxies, it will process and upload that information for applications beyond pure research. Frequent and real time updates – 100 thousand a night – announcing the drift of a planet or the flicker of a dying star will be made available to both research institutions and interested astronomers.
In conjunction with platforms such as Google Earth, LSST will build a 3D virtual map of the cosmos, allowing the public to fly through space from the comfort of home.
Get the latest updates and learn more at LSST.org