Scientists from the University of Auckland have signed up to join the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) project, one of the most ambitious astronomy projects ever undertaken.
The LSST is a purpose-built telescope equipped with the world’s largest digital camera at 3,200-megapixels, which is able to take snapshots of the night sky the size of 40 full moons.
The telescope will be used to take repeated snapshots to image most of the Southern sky every few days, mapping tens of billions of stars and galaxies. This will provide scientists with a wealth of information – from identifying exploding supernovae at the edge of the visible Universe, to asteroids that could impact Earth.
Scientists at the University of Auckland plan use the data from LSST to search for planets circling other stars and for completely new classes of astronomical objects. They also hope to test theories of the origin and evolution of the Universe. Head of Physics at University of Auckland, Professor Richard Easther says,
“We see this as potentially the most important astronomy project New Zealand has ever been involved with and we are extremely excited to be part of it.”
The project will last for ten years, generating data that will be measured in petabytes (one quadrillion bytes) and analysed by international teams of astronomers. Auckland University has an agreement with the LSST consortium, which allows other New Zealand astronomers to collaborate on the project.
This national opportunity does not end here. It will be a mammoth task to decipher data generated by the LSST, which will drive advances in how to apply statistics and machine learning to “big data”. This will create new opportunities for Auckland students.
According to Professor Easther, the LSST provides an opportunity to participate in a project at the frontier of modern science.
Located in Cerro Pachon in northern Chile, the LSST is a joint US/Chile project supported by the US National Science Foundation. It is expected to see “first light” in 2019 and be fully operational by 2021.
For more information read the recent blog by Professor Richard Easther.
Featured image: A simulated night sky provides a background for the LSST facilities building on Cerro Pachón. The LSST will carry out a deep, ten-year imaging survey in six broad optical bands over the main survey area of 18,000 square degrees. Todd Mason, Mason Productions Inc. / LSST Corporation
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