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Large Synoptic Survey Telescope Moves to Final Design Stage

An artist's rendering of the proposed Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. The 8.4-meter LSST will use a special three-mirror design, creating an exceptionally wide field of view and will have the ability to survey the entire sky in only three nights.Credit: LSST Corporation

The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) project is moving to the final design stage.

To be located in Chile, the LSST is a proposed 8-meter wide-field survey telescope that will survey the entire sky approximately twice per week, delivering a large and comprehensive data set that will transform astronomical research.

As one of its duties, the LSST system can detect 140-meter objects in the main asteroid belt in less than a minute – a great assist to NASA’s Near Earth Object charting efforts.

The LSST system will be sited at Cerro Pachon in northern Chile, with the first light scheduled for 2014. In a continuous observing campaign, LSST will cover the entire available sky every three nights, with two observations per night. Over the proposed survey lifetime of 10 years, each sky location would be observed about 1000 times.

Equipped with a 3-billion pixel digital camera, the LSST will propel astronomy ever further into the era of data-enabled science.

Milky Way map

By charting objects that change or move, and tracing billions of remote galaxies, LSST will provide multiple probes of the mysterious dark matter and dark energy, provide insight into short-lived transient events such as astronomical explosions or collisions, and create a more detailed map of the Milky Way and our own solar system.

The project is a partnership among the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE) and a number of private contributors.

The total construction cost of LSST is estimated to be about $665M, approximately 70 percent from NSF, 24 percent from DOE, and 6 percent from private donors to the project. On the list of gifts from private contributors of $10 million and above is space tourist, Charles Simonyi and his Fund for Arts and Sciences, as well as Bill Gates.

The construction of LSST is anticipated to last five years, followed by a two-year commissioning period before the start of the survey.

“LSST will transform how scientists detect and analyze astronomical events,” said Edward Seidel, assistant director for the NSF’s Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate. “The potential to deepen our understanding of the universe and its constituents, from distant exploding stars to nearby asteroids, is enormous.”

By Leonard David

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