Large Synoptic Survey Telescope gets top ranking
August 16, 2010
By Andy Fell
The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope has been ranked as the top priority for funding by a National Research Council committee. In its report for the National Academy of Sciences, the committee recommended that the LSST be submitted immediately to the National Science Foundation's Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction process.
J. Anthony Tyson, professor of physics at UC Davis, is the director of the LSST project, which includes 34 universities, foundations and other institutions.
“We are absolutely delighted to hear this strong endorsement from our colleagues in the scientific community for a project that we have been advocating for many years,” he said.
Tyson added that the “LSST will transform the way we study the universe. By mapping the visible sky deeply and rapidly, the LSST will let everyone experience a novel view of our universe and enable exploration of exciting new questions in a variety of areas of astronomy and fundamental physics.”
The report was the sixth decadal survey of astronomy and astrophysics projects from the National Research Council, intended to identify the highest-priority projects on the grounds of their potential to advance science as well as technical readiness, schedule and cost.
Roving eye in night sky
The telescope will operate from a mountain in northern Chile, sweeping the entire night sky every three nights for 10 years. This massive data set (30 terabytes a night, or 100 petabytes total) will be used to construct a color “movie” of the sky enabling studies of objects that move or change in brightness, such as asteroids or exploding stars. The survey data will also probe the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy, two of the most pressing challenges to our current understanding of the fundamental forces and basic building blocks of nature.
The database and resulting catalogs will be made available to the U.S. and Chilean communities with no proprietary restrictions.
Prominent supporters of the project welcomed the news.
Philanthropist Charles Simonyi, who has contributed significant funding to the project, said, “The broad science and educational opportunities enabled by LSST have been reaffirmed by this top ranking by the National Academy of Sciences."
He added, "With LSST we’ll be able to gather thousands of times more data than possible until now, producing a 'movie' of our universe and a database suitable for answering a wide range of pressing questions: What is dark energy? How did the Milky Way form? Are there potentially hazardous asteroids that may impact the Earth? And what sort of new phenomena have yet to be discovered? Let's get on with construction."
Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who also donated to the project, said, “LSST is just as imaginative in its technology and approach as it is with its science mission. The 8.4 meter LSST telescope and the three gigapixel camera are thus a shared resource for all humanity—the ultimate network peripheral device to explore the universe.”
“LSST will produce a new sky,” said Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google.
“Unique probes of our universe will result from this innovation, enabling discovery of unimagined phenomena. LSST will collect and organize the information in an expansive new view of our universe, making it available to curious minds of all ages.”
The National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy Office of Science have contributed funds for design and development of the LSST. More information about the LSST including current images, graphics, and animation can be found at www.lsst.org.
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