Gates, Simonyi give $30 million to massive, space-focused digicam project

The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope Project, a public-private venture to build a telescope to detect dark matter and dark energy, says it received gifts from Microsoft veterans Charles Simonyi and Bill Gates.

LSST telescope facility
An artist's rendering of the LSST facility as it's expected to look atop Cerro Pachon in Chile. Michael Mullen Design, LSST

A project to develop the world's most powerful telescope on a mountaintop in Chile has received a $30 million infusion from Microsoft founder Bill Gates and former Microsoft executive Charles Simonyi. In the last week, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) Project, a public-private venture to build a telescope to detect dark matter and dark energy that's accelerating the universe's expansion, said it received a $20 million gift from Simonyi's Fund for Arts and Sciences and another $10 million from Gates.

The LSST, expected to be completed in 2014, will include three large mirrors and a 3-billion-pixel digital camera that scientists can use to survey the sky once every three nights. On those nights, it will take exposures every 10 seconds, generating as much as 30 terabytes of data. That data is expected to be available to the public.

Simonyi is especially interested in space discovery. He was one of the first tourists to fly to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket. Wayne Rosing, Google's former head of engineering, works on LSST as a senior fellow in mathematical and physical sciences at the University of California, Davis.

Rosing's colleague, U.C. Davis professor and LSST Director Anthony Tyson, said the gift will help lead to a transformation in the way scientists study the universe.

"By mapping the visible sky deeply and rapidly, the LSST will let everyone experience a novel view of our Universe and permit exciting new questions in a variety of areas of astronomy and fundamental physics."

Microsoft's terrestrial rival Google is also involved in the telescope project.

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