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World’s First 3200 Megapixel Photos Taken as Part of Space Exploration
October 30, 2020 News


An image of Vera C. Rubin, a group photo of the camera team and a head of broccoli – these were the first objects taken with the array of imaging sensors capable of producing 3,200-megapixel photos, which is a part of the much larger project by Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre (SLAC) National Accelerator Laboratory for space exploration.

The sensor array will be integrated with the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, the world’s largest camera for astronomy to be installed at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile, in a mission to produce panoramic images of the complete Southern sky – one panorama every few nights over 10 years.

“The images are so large that it would take 378 4K ultra-high-definition TV screens to display one of them in full size and their resolution is so high that you could see a golf ball from about 15 miles away. These and other properties will soon drive unprecedented astrophysical research”, according to a SLAC press release.

Up to 15 terabytes of data per night of observation will be generated in the said project and this data will feed into the Rubin Observatory Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) – a catalogue of galaxies and the motions of countless astrophysical objects. “Using the LSST Camera, the observatory will create the largest astronomical movie of all time and shed light on some of the biggest mysteries of the universe, including dark matter and dark energy”, the press release explained.

With the 3200-megapixel sensor array, the camera can produce sharp images in high resolution. This array of sensors will serve as the focal plane of the LSST camera, where light from billions of galaxies comes to a focus.

“It consists of 189 charge-coupled device (CCD) sensors, arranged in a total of 21 3-by-3 square arrays mounted on platforms called rafts. The system is cooled to about -100 °C to minimize noise. The 64-cm-wide focal plane corresponds to a 3.5-degree field of view, which means the camera can capture more than 40 times the area of the full moon in the sky with each exposure”, the LSST website said.

Aside from the focal plane, the LSST camera will also consist of an SUV-sized camera – a large-aperture, wide-field optical camera that is capable of viewing light from the near-ultraviolet to near-infrared wavelengths. It will also have five onboard filters, which can be individually swapped out in under two minutes and up to four times a night with the double-rail auto-changer, for different scenarios such as dusty skies.

The LSST camera aims to advance our knowledge of dark energy and dark matter that makes up 95 per cent of the universe, as well as galaxy formation and potentially hazardous asteroids, using all the images that will be taken for a decade.

As of now, the sensor array is yet to be integrated with the LSST camera, which is still under construction. “Nearing completion of the camera is very exciting and we’re proud of playing such a central role in building this key component of the Rubin Observatory”, said JoAnne Hewett, SLAC’s Chief Research Officer and Associate Lab Director for Fundamental Physics. The project is expected to be completed and deployed in 2021.