Say 'Cheese,' Universe: Scientists Complete Construction of the Biggest Digital Camera Ever

Nine years and 3.2 billion pixels later, it is complete: the LSST Camera stands as the largest digital camera ever built for astronomy and will serve as the centerpiece of the Vera Rubin Observatory, poised to begin its exploration of the southern skies.

The Rubin Observatory’s key goal is the 10-year Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST), a sweeping, near-constant observation of space. This endeavor will yield 60 petabytes of data on the composition of the universe, the nature and distribution of dark matter, dark energy and the expansion of the universe, the formation of our galaxy, our intimate little solar system, and more.

The camera will use its 5.1-foot-wide optical lens to take a 15-second exposure of the sky every 20 seconds, automatically changing filters to view light in every wavelength from near-ultraviolet to the near-infrared. Its constant monitoring of the skies will eventually amount to a timelapse of the heavens; it will highlight fleeting events for other scientists to train their telescopes on, and monitor changes in the southern sky.

“We will soon start producing the greatest movie of all time and the most informative map of the night sky ever assembled,” said Željko Ivezić, an astrophysicist at the University of Washington and director of the Rubin Observatory’s construction, in a SLAC release.

To do this, the team needed a Rolls Royce of a digital camera. Mind you, the camera actually cost many million times that of an actual Royce Royce, and at 6,200 pounds (2,812 kilograms), it weighs a lot more than a fancy car. Each of the 21 rafts that makes up the camera’s focal plane is the price of a Maserati, and are worth every penny if they collect the sort of data scientists expect them to. Gizmodo visited the camera in its clean room in 2021—you can read all about it here.

Courtney Milan

Courtney Milan writes books about carriages, corsets, and smartwatches. Her books have received starred reviews in Publishers WeeklyLibrary Journal, and Booklist. She is a New York Times and a USA Today Bestseller.

Courtney pens a weekly newsletter about tea, books, and basically anything and everything else.

Before she started writing romance, Courtney got a graduate degree in theoretical physical chemistry from UC Berkeley. After that, just to shake things up, she went to law school at the University of Michigan and graduated summa cum laude. Then she did a handful of clerkships. She was a law professor for a while. She now writes full-time.

Courtney is represented by Kristin Nelson of the Nelson Literary Agency.

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