Large Synoptic Survey Telescope: Photos of the world's biggest digital camera

The mammoth Large Synoptic Survey Telescope project takes a lot of scientists and engineers -- and brings a whole lot of megapixels.

Joal Ryan
1 of 25 Todd Mason, Mason Productions Inc./LSST Corporation

Say cheese!

How do you capture the deepest, widest look yet into the universe? With the help of the 3.2-gigapixel Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) camera

Currently under construction, and depicted here in this illustration, the LSST camera will be the biggest digital camera ever created. Its aperture will stand at nearly five and a half feet.

You've gotta see these pictures showing how it's all coming together...

LSST facility
2 of 25 Todd Mason, Mason Productions Inc.

Big eye

Here's a rendering of where the LSST camera's big eye will be put to work: At the summit of the Chilean mountain Cerro Pachón. 

The telescope will be tasked with surveying 37 billion stars and galaxies over the course of a 10-year mission due to begin in 2021. 

3 of 25 Todd Mason, Mason Productions Inc./LSST Corporation

Sky's the limit

When completed, the LSST project will scan the southern sky, collecting 15TB of raw data each night, and ultimately shining new light on dark matter, dark energy and more.    

4 of 25 LSST Project


At the LSST's home base in Chile, mountain terrain needed to be evened out. This is a 2011 shot of a leveling blast on the Cerro Pachón's El Peñón summit.  

5 of 25 LSST Project/J. Andrew

Inside the 'scope

This illustration takes us inside, literally, the LSST complex. The world's biggest digital camera will be a major part of a mammoth operation that's engaging scientists worldwide.  

6 of 25 SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Breaking it down

Here's an annotated look at all of the components of the LSST camera, under construction since 2015.

7 of 25 Todd Mason, Mason Productions Inc./LSST Corporation

Putting the band together

To help read the sky in detail, the LSST camera will be equipped with a filter carousel, or wheel, depicted here

Six filters will be available. Each filter will deal with a different spectral band.  

8 of 25 Jeffrey S. Kingsley/UA Steward Observatory

MIrroring behavior

In 2008, the University of Arizona cast the LSST's 27.5-foot-diameter primary mirror from 51,900 pounds of glass. 

The primary mirror, known as the M1M3, is actually two mirrors in one. 

9 of 25 E. Acosta/LSST Corporation

Let it shine

In 2012, the M1M3 mirror was polished and, as LSST put it, "nearing perfection."  

10 of 25 LSST Project/NSF/AURA

Polish makes perfect

This is the M1M3 in its container in 2015 as polishing work was completed. 

11 of 25 LSST Project/NSF/AURA

From the ground up

In 2016, concrete work was underway in Chile for the telescope mount assembly's permanent pier foundation. 

12 of 25 LSST Project/NSF/AURA

Rebar for the test site

A few months later, rebar was laid out for a duplicate pier in Spain. This pier was to be used as a test site for the Chilean-bound telescope mount assembly.

13 of 25 LSST Project/NSF/AURA

Color coding for mirror

Seen in 2016, these are 24 color-coded components for the LSST's secondary mirror, the M2.

14 of 25 Harris Corporation/LSST Project /NSF/AURA

Power ring

This is the cell assembly for the 11-foot-five-inch-diameter M2, as seen suspended in its Rochester, NY, test tower in 2017.   

15 of 25 Harris Corporation/LSST Project/NSF /AURA

Giant O-ring

Another, otherworldly view of the M2 cell assembly. 

16 of 25 LSST Project/NSF/AURA

Chillin' the sensors

The LSST camera's cryostat rear support ring (seen here in 2017) will help keep the focal-plane sensors running at the optimal temperature: 100 degrees below Celsius. 

17 of 25 Andy Freeberg/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

The white-glove treatment

Here's a look at the LSST camera's clean room in Menlo Park during a test session.  

18 of 25 Andy Freeberg/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

No dust allowed

Here's another view of the clean room. 

19 of 25 LSST Project/NSF/AURA

Under pressure

The factory at Spain's Astrufeito was humming in July 2017 as work continued on the telescope mount.

20 of 25 LSST Project/NSF/AURA

That's a wrap ... so to speak

This is a test session in Spain for the the telescope mount's cable wrap assembly. 

21 of 25 LSST Project/NSF/AURA

There's no place like dome

In Chile in August 2017, a five-ton, 30-foot-diameter dome was installed atop the project's auxiliary telescope building. 

22 of 25 LSST/NSF/AURA

Come together

In November 2017, another piece of the puzzle came together when the M1M3's surrogate mirror was mounted to its cell at CAID Industries in Tucson, Arizona. 

23 of 25 LSST Project/NSF/AURA

Getting a lift

The LSST project is so big it needs a vertical lift platform to get the job done. This lift was installed at the Chile site in December 2017. It'll move the mirrors and camera, up and down, for maintenance.   

Merkel Meets With Bill Gates
24 of 25 Adam Berry/Getty Images

Money from billionaires

In the works since the turn of the 21st century, the LSST project got a $10 million boost from Bill Gates in 2008. 

The Microsoft founder was taken by plans to share the telescope's data with the public. "LSST is truly an internet telescope," he said.

25 of 25 LSST Project/NSF/AURA

On the horizon

This November 2017 shot of the LSST Observatory shows progress made, and a future still to come. 

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