- LSST Camera, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
- United States (Menlo Park)
The highest resolution digital camera is the LSST Camera, which was designed for the Vera C. Rubin Observatory (formerly known as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope), which is currently under construction on Cerro Pachon in Elqui Province, Chile. The camera uses an array of 189 CCD image sensors (each with a resolution of 4,096 x 4,097 pixels (16 megapixels) for a total resolution of 3.2 billion pixels. The CCD array was assembled at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, California, USA, and first tested (without its lenses) in September 2020.
The camera uses CCD (charge-coupled device) sensors, which can produce higher quality images (at the cost of much higher price and power consumption) than the active-pixel (CMOS) sensors in most commercially-available digital cameras. The 16-megapixel sensors are grouped together into 21 sets of nine called "rafts", and each raft is backed by a "tower" of control electronics that bring together the data from each sensor. Each one of these self-contained modules can act as a camera on its own, and can be independently operated.
When completed, the LSST camera will be the largest digital camera ever built – combining this massive CCD array with a set of enormous lenses and image-acquisition systems. All these components will be sealed inside an air-tight, refrigerated housing measuring 1.65 m (5 ft 6 in) in diameter, 3.73 m (12 ft 3 in) in length and weighing around 2,800 kg (6,200 lb).
Within the next few years, the camera will be installed on the Charles Simonyi Survey Telescope at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory (formerly known as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope), currently under construction on Cerro Pachon in Elqui Province, Chile. This facility is designed to continuously monitor the night sky -- using its huge camera to take up to 15 terabytes of images every night.
The LSST camera, when installed in Chile, will have a field of view of 9.6 square degrees. For context the full moon has an apparent size (when viewed from earth) of just 0.2 square degrees. By imaging large areas of the night sky on a regular basis, astronomers will be able to identify patterns of movement and variations in brightness that might not otherwise be apparent.
Objects which move through the sky include small solar system bodies like asteroids and comets, but nearby stars also make small displacements in angle due to intrinsic velocities and the orbit of the Earth around the Sun. Variations in stellar brightness can be caused by periodic instabilities, the motions of stars around one another in binary systems, and explosive events like novae and supernovae One of the big mysteries the Vera C. Rubin observatory might be able to solve is the question of whether or not there is another dim and remote planet beyond Neptune – the so-called Planet Nine. Its combination of high resolution and wide field-of-view makes it well equipped to spot what would be a tiny speck, moving almost imperceptibly slowly between the stars.