Vera Rubin’s Monster 3200-megapixel camera takes its first photo (in the lab)


Vera c. The Rubin Observatory has made another step in 2022 towards the projected first light for some time. Its 3200-megapixel camera just took its first photo during laboratory testing at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. The camera is the largest ever built, and its unprecedented power is the inspiration behind the Observatory’s ten-year Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST).

When coupled with an 8.4-meter primary mirror, the camera has an impressive, data-producing uniformity. Its focal plane consists of 189 different charge-coupled devices (CCDs) that each capture 16 megapixels. Each 3200 megapixel image will take 378 4K ultra-high-definition TV screens to display.

Each image is so vast, that a single one captures an area of ​​the sky equal to 40 full moons. The team behind the camera says that image sensors are so powerful that it will be able to “see” objects that can blur 100 million times compared to the naked eye. A SLAC press release states that at that level of sensitivity, you can 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 Raitt, LSTS camera project manager from DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “The focal plane will produce images for the LSST, so it is the capable and sensitive eye of the Rubin Observatory.”

Steven Kan of SLAC, director of the observatory, said in a press release, “This achievement is one of the most important of the entire Rubin Observatory project. The completion and successful testing of the LSST camera focal plane is a major victory for the camera team, which will enable the Rubin Observatory to deliver the next generation of astronomical science. ”

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

So much data will actually be produced, that there will be two dedicated 40 GB high-speed fiber-optic data lines to handle it. All this data will travel to the Archive Center in the US. There, it will be processed and stored, and made available to the community.

The Rubin Observatory will generate an extraordinary amount of data, and requires high-speed fiber optics and data facilities to manage it. Image Credit: Rubin Obs / NSF / AURA
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Collecting and processing this image will produce the Rubin Observatory: panoramic wide field images of the southern sky, every few nights for 10 years. All of those images will include a large, ten-year-long video of the night sky.

The Rubin Observatory’s primary contribution to astronomy will be: Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST). The LSST will be a list of some 20 billion galaxies, which are more galaxies than humans. It will find all kinds of transient objects, such as asteroids around our solar system, as well as distant supernovas. This will help map Dark Matter and Dark Energy, and our own Milky Way.

The camera sensor system is made up of units called rafts. Each fleet has several sensors each, and two types of rafts. The 21 rafts each have nine sensors, and are responsible for acquiring 21 images. Then there are four special rafts. They each contain three sensors, and they are responsible for focusing the camera and synchronizing it with the rotation of the Earth.

The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) camera team has installed the first of 21 science rafts - 3-by-3 arrays of state-of-the-art imaging sensors.  This image shows one of the 3-by-3 image capturing arrays and the smaller target and synchronizing arrays.  The accompanying imaging system will take an unprecedented 3,200 megapixel images of the night sky, which, over time, will produce the world's largest astrophysic film.  Photo: Farrin Abbott / SLAC
The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) camera team has installed the first of 21 science rafts – 3-by-3 arrays of state-of-the-art imaging sensors. This image shows one of the 3-by-3 image capturing arrays and the smaller target and synchronizing arrays. The accompanying imaging system will take an unprecedented 3,200 megapixel images of the night sky, which, over time, will produce the world’s largest astrophysic film. Photo: Farrin Abbott / SLAC

“These specifications are simply surprising,” said Steven Ritz, a project scientist at LSST Camera at the University of Santa Cruz, California. “These unique features will enable the Rubin Observatory’s ambitious science program.”

“These data will improve our knowledge of how galaxies have evolved over time and will allow us to test our models of Dark Matter and Dark Energy more deeply and accurately than ever before”, said Ritz. “The observatory would be an amazing facility for a wide range of science – from detailed studies of our solar system to study objects from the edge of the cosmos that are visible in the distant universe.”

The LSST camera's focal plane has a surface area large enough to capture a portion of the sky the size of 40 full moons.  Its resolution is so high that you can see a golf ball from 15 miles away.  Image Credit: Greg Stewart / SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
The LSST camera’s focal plane has a surface area large enough to capture a portion of the sky the size of 40 full moons. Its resolution is so high that you can see a golf ball from 15 miles away. Image Credit: Greg Stewart / SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

It took the camera team several months to install the raft on the focal plane. Rafts are very expensive pieces of equipment. Each can cost up to $ 3 million, and tolerances in installation are extremely tight. The space between each raft is less than five broad hairs. Imaging sensors can also burst if they touch each other.

Hannah Polek is a mechanical engineer at SLAC who worked on sensor integers. In a press release she said “The combination of high stakes and tight endurance made the project very challenging. But with a versatile team we liked it very much. ”

To capture these first few images, the sensor was cooled to an operating temperature of -101 C (-150 F). Since the entire camera has not yet been assembled, the team projected images on the focal plane with a 150 μm pinhole. Items used for test images, Romanesque broccoli, Flemrian engraving, Vera c. There were a picture of Rubin, a photo collage of the members of the LSTT team and a photo collage of the logo of the LSTS member institutions.

“Taking these images is a major achievement,” said Aaron Rudman of SLAC, the scientist responsible for the assembly and testing of the LSTT camera. “With tight specifications, we really pushed the limits of what is possible to take advantage of each square millimeter of the focal plane and maximize the science we can do with it.”

Using a pinhole projector, SLAC's Yusaks Utsumi, right, and Aaron Rudman project the first images on the focal plane of the LSTT camera.  One of the first objects, a staple of Romanesque, seen here, was chosen for its elaborate texture.  Image credit: Jacqueline Orell / SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.
Using a pinhole projector, SLAC’s Yusaks Utsumi, right, and Aaron Rudman project the first images on the focal plane of the LSTT camera. One of the first objects, a staple of Romanesque, seen here, was chosen for its elaborate texture. Image credit: Jacqueline Orell / SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

The next stage is the assembly of the entire camera. The focal plane and cryostat will be inserted into the camera body, along with its three lenses. One of those lenses, 1.57 m (5.1 ft) in diameter, is considered the world’s largest high-performance optical lens. There is also a shutter, and a filter exchange system. Overall, the camera will be about the size of an SUV, and by 2021 it will be ready for final testing. After that, it will be sent to Chile.

“The near-completion camera is very exciting, and we are proud to play such a central role in building this key component of the Rubin Observatory,” said Joanna Hewett, SLA’s Chief Research Officer and Associate Lab Director for Basic Physics. “This is a milestone that brings us a big step forward in exploring fundamental questions about the universe that we haven’t been able to before.”

Over the next few months, the LSST camera team will integrate the remaining camera components, including lenses, a shutter, and a filter exchange system.  By mid-2021, the SUV-shaped camera will be ready for final testing.  Image Credit: Chris Smith / SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
Over the next few months, the LSST camera team will integrate the remaining camera components, including lenses, a shutter, and a filter exchange system. By mid-2021, the SUV-shaped camera will be ready for final testing. Image Credit: Chris Smith / SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Vera c. One of the things that makes the Rubin Observatory special is the fact that it images the sky-like regions in rapid succession. All of that activity is largely automated, too. This means that it will spot transient objects and be able to alert other observatories to such things as supernovas. He will allow powerful telescopes coming soon online, like the highly telescope, to bring their power to bear on them as the Rubin Observatory.

A test image from the imaging sensor at the Vera Rubin Observatory.  Since the sensors are not yet integrated with the lens, the team used a pinhole to capture this image of Romanesco broccoli.  Picture Sincerely: LSST Organization
A test image from the imaging sensor at the Vera Rubin Observatory. Since the sensors are not yet integrated with the lens, the team used a pinhole to capture this image of Romanesco broccoli. Picture Sincerely: LSST Organization

All this exquisite image data will also be accessible to all of us. In 2007, Google announced its involvement with the project. While LSST data will be available to researchers in a more raw form, Google wants to use their data expertise to make LSST data more accessible to the public. They are expected to provide digital coverage of such things as supernovas, asteroids and distant galaxies.

The catch words from the Vera Rubin Observatory are “broad, deep and sharp”. It will repeatedly survey the night sky with a wide field of view with a high-resolution depth, and it will do it quickly. Nothing like this ever happened.

And the fact that anyone with an Internet connection will be able to share in search and images means that the Rubin Observatory can inspire generations of future astronomers, in the same way that the Hubble Space Telescope is.

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