The largest camera ever built arrives at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory

The 3200-megapixel LSST Camera arrived at Vera C. Rubin Observatory on May 15th and is being readied for installation. Courtesy NOIRLab.

Twenty years in the making, a 3200-megapixel camera purpose-built for discoveries in astrophysics has finally arrived. The Legacy of Space and Time (LSST) camera was delivered to the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile in mid-May 2024.

The camera traveled from its construction laboratory at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. The technical crew equipped it with specialized data loggers, monitors and GPS to track the conditions of the journey. They then packed it into a specially built container and the entire party made the journey from San Francisco airport to Santiago via a chartered flight on May 14. Once in Chile, he traveled five hours to the location on a 35-kilometer dirt road. According to the construction project manager, it arrived on the 16th, marking a huge step toward the opening of the Rubin Observatory. “Getting the camera to the top was the last big piece of the puzzle,” he said. “Now that all of Rubin’s components are physically on site, we are on the path to transformative science with the LSST.”

This video documents the journey of the LSST camera from the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California to the Rubin Observatory at the summit of Cerro Pachón in Chile. The camera arrived at the summit on May 16, 2024. Credit:RubinObs/NSF/AURA/S. Deppe/O. Bonin, T. Lange, M. Lopez, J. Orrell (SLAC National Lab)

The LSST camera is the last major component of the Rubin Observatory’s Simonyi Survey Telescope to reach the summit. It’s about the size of a small car. Inside, the focal plane contains 189 CCD sensors, arranged on an array of “rafts.” The sensors deliver a combined image of 3200 megapixels.

Now that it has arrived, the camera will be tested for several months in the white room of the observatory. Then it’s off to the Simonyi Survey Telescope, with its newly coated 8.4 meter mirror and a 3.4 meter secondary mirror.

About the Vera Rubin Observatory

This unique observatory is named after astronomer Vera C. Rubin. Her work focused on the mysterious ‘dark matter’ that appears to pervade the universe. Together with her team, she studied dozens of galaxies to understand what influenced their movements. It turned out to be dark matter. The search for dark matter and its existence throughout the universe is one of the main goals of the observatory that now bears her name.

Understanding the distribution of dark matter is where the LSST camera will come in handy. To start, it will take images of the sky every night for a decade and conduct a massive survey that will provide a complete picture of the visible sky every 3 to 4 powers. Each area it images will be approximately the size of 40 full moons and the research will benefit from the fact that the 8.4-meter telescope moves quickly between imaging positions. When fully operational, the observatory will provide a 500 petabyte set of images and data products across the sky.

The entire focal plane of the future LSST camera is over 60 cm wide and contains 189 individual sensors that will produce 3,200 megapixel images.  Crews at SLAC have now taken the first images with it.  (Jacqueline Orrell/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)
The entire focal plane of the future LSST camera is over 60 cm wide and contains 189 individual sensors that will produce 3,200 megapixel images. Crews at SLAC have now taken the first images with it. (Jacqueline Orrell/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

The Rubin Observatory will not only conduct this unprecedented research in very high resolution, but also track objects that change in brightness – called ‘transients’. That includes supernovae, variable stars, mergers of dense objects such as neutron stars or black holes, and other rapidly changing events and objects. Additionally, it will track asteroids and other objects wandering through the solar system.

The formation and evolution of the Milky Way Galaxy is another area of ​​research for telescope users. Rubin should be able to track stellar streams through the Milky Way and map their paths. That information could provide valuable insight into how our Milky Way formed and how stars from cannibalized galaxies move through it.

What’s next for the Vera Rubin Observatory and the LSST camera

Once the LSST camera was delivered to the Cerro Pachón site, technicians moved it into an immense white room. That’s a controlled environment that protects the instrument while they work to get it ready for installation on the telescope. They inspected the camera and downloaded data on the ‘ride’ from the US to Chile from all the instruments attached to it. “Our goal was to ensure that the camera not only survived, but also arrived in perfect condition,” said Kevin Reil, an observatory scientist at Rubin. “Early indications – including data collected by the data loggers, accelerometers and shock sensors – suggest we have been successful.”

View of the Rubin Observatory at sunset in December 2023. The Rubin Observatory's 8.4-meter telescope, equipped with the world's highest-resolution digital camera, will take massive images of the Southern Hemisphere sky, taking every few nights the entire sky is covered.  Rubin will do this again and again for a decade, creating a time-lapse view of the universe unlike anything we've ever seen before.  What new solar system exploration missions will these observations inspire?  Image credits: RubinObs/NSF/AURA/H.  Stockebrand
View of the Rubin Observatory at sunset in December 2023. The Rubin Observatory’s 8.4-meter telescope, equipped with the world’s highest-resolution digital camera, will take massive images of the Southern Hemisphere sky, taking every few nights the entire sky is covered. Rubin will do this again and again for ten years, creating a time-lapse view of the universe. Image credits: RubinObs/NSF/AURA/H. Stockebrand

The observatory is still in the final stages of construction. The telescope is in place and other instruments and infrastructure are being completed. It should all be ready for “first light” and the start of scientific activities sometime in 2025. Between now and then, more parts of the telescope and its mirrors should be installed, and tests will be carried out on several other instruments, both on and off. into the air as scientists prepare to use Rubin next year. Once observations begin, astronomers using Rubin will be able to discover approximately 17 billion stars and ~20 billion galaxies in the distant universe.

For more information

LSST camera arrives at Rubin Observatory in Chile, paving the way for cosmic exploration
Vera C. Rubin Observatory

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