Diagram of Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) camera lenses and filters
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LSST Camera: World’s largest camera for astronomy

Rubin Observatory’s Legacy Survey of Space and Time

Ranked as the top ground-based national priority for the field for the 2010s, the Vera C. Rubin Observatory is currently under construction in Chile. The U.S. Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory is leading the construction of its camera – the largest digital camera ever built for astronomy, which will be mounted on the Simonyi Survey Telescope. During the first 10 years of operations, Rubin Observatory will conduct the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST), which will cover the entire southern sky and provide the widest, fastest and deepest views of the night sky ever observed. SLAC Professor Aaron Roodman is the deputy director of the observatory and Camera program lead, and SLAC personnel are also participating in Rubin data management and commissioning. SLAC is also leading the DOE’s portion of Rubin Observatory operations, with Sr. Staff Scientist Phil Marshall serving as Deputy Director for Rubin Operations, and is host for the Dark Energy Science Collaboration. Rubin Observatory is a federal project jointly funded by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, with early construction funding received from private donations through the LSST Corporation.


LSST Explainer | Mapping the universe
Video
Built at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, the LSST Camera is the largest digital camera ever built for astronomy. The camera is at the heart of the Vera C. Rubin Observatory's 10-year-long Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST), which will capture the entire southern sky every 3 nights. Data from the camera will help address some of the most pressing questions in cosmology, such as the nature of dark energy and dark matter, as well as advancing the study of our solar system and the changing night sky. (Olivier Bonin/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

LSST science goals

What will LSST look at?

The LSST will make use of images of the entire visible southern sky that will be taken over and over again for a decade. This vast public archive of data will dramatically advance our knowledge of the dark energy and dark matter that make up 95 percent of the universe, as well as galaxy formation and potentially hazardous asteroids.

Gravitational lensing is our best tool for finding dark matter, which makes up about 27 percent of the universe. LSST will benefit from Rubin Observatory's power and large field of view, which will enable us to see weaker lenses, which are more common.

Dark matter texture

Dark energy makes up two-thirds of the universe and drives its expansion. With LSST data, scientists will be able to map out in extraordinary detail how the universe has expanded over time, yielding new insight into the nature of dark energy. 

Dark energy

LSST will allow scientists to undertake a thorough exploration of our solar system with two goals in mind: learning how it originally formed, and protecting Earth from hazardous, near-flying asteroids.

Graphic of solar system orbits

Individual stars in the Milky Way and nearby galaxies can be resolved in the LSST data. These stars then provide a fossil record that can be decoded to determine how these galaxies formed.

Milky Way galaxy

Rubin Observatory will scan the sky repeatedly to great depth. With LSST, researchers will be able to both discover new, distant transient events and study variable objects throughout our universe.

Supernova

Camera design

Nuts and bolts

The LSST Camera project is funded by the DOE and managed by SLAC. Construction began in 2015 in SLAC's new clean room, as the lab is leading the camera's design and fabrication. The 3.2-gigapixel prime focus digital camera will take a 15-second exposure every 20 seconds, which requires very precise focusing due to the rapid repointing. It will produce data of extremely high quality with minimal downtime and maintenance.

Camera overview

About the size of a small SUV, the LSST Camera is the largest camera ever constructed for astronomy. It is a large-aperture, wide-field optical camera that is capable of viewing light from the near ultraviolet to near infrared wavelengths.

Length12.25 ft (3.73 m)
Height5.5 ft (1.65 m)
Weight6200 lbs (2800 kg)
Pixel Count3200 megapixel
Wavelength Range320–1050 nm

Note: 1 nm (nanometer) = 10-9 m or one-billionth of a meter

LSST Camera size
LSST focal plane diagram

Focal plane

The focal plane is the heart of the camera, where light from billions of galaxies comes to a focus. It consists of 189 charge-coupled device (CCD) sensors, arranged in a total of 21 3-by-3 square arrays mounted on platforms called rafts. The system is cooled to about -100 °C to minimize noise.

The 64-cm-wide focal plane corresponds to a 3.5-degree field of view, which means the camera can capture more than 40 times the area of the full moon in the sky with each exposure.

Filter changer

The camera also contains a carousel that holds five on-board filters. Each of the filters can be individually swapped out in under two minutes and up to four times a night with the double-rail auto changer. The system also integrates with a manual load-lock changer to allow for a swap-out of a sixth filter.

The optimized wavelength range for the LSST Camera is 320–1050 nm (near ultraviolet to near infrared). This range is divided into six spectral bands labeled u-g-r-i-z-y, each associated with one of the filters. For example, an infrared, or “i” filter might be used to observe sources obscured by dust, since infrared wavelengths can pass through the dust.

LSST camera filters

Rubin Observatory stats

Fun facts & key numbers

The concept behind the Rubin Observatory Project is remarkably simple: conduct a deep survey over an enormous area of sky; do it with a frequency that enables images of every part of the visible sky to be obtained every few nights; and continue in this mode for 10 years to achieve astronomical catalogs thousands of times larger than ever previously compiled – the first time a telescope will catalog more galaxies than there are people on Earth.

27

Foot primary mirror

3.2

Gigapixel detector

15

Terabytes of data per night

 

37

Billion stars & galaxies

10

Year survey of the sky

 
Vera Rubin Observatory telescope on a mountaintop

Rubin Observatory news from SLAC

News Feature

The largest camera ever built for astrophysics has completed the journey to Cerro Pachón in Chile, where it will soon help unlock the Universe’s...

A semi truck traveling a gravel road approaches two large telescope facilities.
News Feature

The first reflective coating was applied to Vera C. Rubin Observatory’s 8.4-meter combined primary/tertiary mirror using the observatory’s onsite coating chamber.

A large mirror reflects equipment in the background.
News Feature

Vera C. Rubin Observatory’s stunningly detailed images will illuminate distant stellar streams and their past encounters with dark matter.

An illustration of streams of stars flowing around a spiral galaxy.
News Feature

The largest camera ever built for astrophysics has completed the journey to Cerro Pachón in Chile, where it will soon help unlock the Universe’s...

A semi truck traveling a gravel road approaches two large telescope facilities.
News Feature

The first reflective coating was applied to Vera C. Rubin Observatory’s 8.4-meter combined primary/tertiary mirror using the observatory’s onsite coating chamber.

A large mirror reflects equipment in the background.
News Feature

Vera C. Rubin Observatory’s stunningly detailed images will illuminate distant stellar streams and their past encounters with dark matter.

An illustration of streams of stars flowing around a spiral galaxy.
Press Release

Once set in place atop a telescope in Chile, the 3,200-megapixel LSST Camera will help researchers better understand dark matter, dark energy and other...

Researchers examine the LSST Camera
News Feature

Vera C. Rubin Observatory’s detailed, big-picture view of our Solar System and ability to quickly detect and track moving objects will provide a gold...

A ring of yellow dots representing surrounds the earth, which projects a green beam onto the dots.
News Feature

The latest results put the strongest constraints on the expansion of the universe ever obtained with DES supernova data.

Blanco Telescope

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Funding & collaboration

Vera C. Rubin Observatory is a federal project jointly funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, with early construction funding received from private donations through the LSST Corporation. The NSF-funded LSST (now Rubin Observatory) Project Office for construction was established as an operating center under management of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA). The DOE-funded effort to build the Rubin Observatory LSST Camera (LSSTCam) is managed by SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC).

 
  • National Science Foundation (NSF)
  • SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
  • Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science
  • Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA)
  • Charles and Lisa Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences
  • LSST Corporation
 
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