LSST (Large Synoptic Survey Telescope)

The LSST is a planned observatory currently under development and construction on the El Peñón peak of Cerro Pachon in Chile (alongside the Gemini South telescope). Construction began in mid October, 2014 and is set to finish up around 2019, with first scientific observations to be made in 2021 and full operations to begin in January, 2022. The LSST will feature an 8.4-meter mirror and a 3200 megapixel camera (three-point-two-billion pixels! That’s… *ahem* that’s, uh, pretty neat.) Though the primary mirror is one of the smallest to be featured in the many upcoming mainsail telescopes (the Giant Magellan Telescope will have a 30-meter mirror, and the European Extremely Large Telescope will feature both a 42-meter mirror as well as the most boring name for an observatory), its main selling point is its massive field of view, which is achieved with the assistance of two additional 3.4-meter mirrors and will allow it to capture wider, undistorted images of the cosmos than any telescope before it.

Coolest concept image of LSST’s exterior:

Another major selling point for the LSST, and my personal favorite, is that it’s data gathering will be open to the public. Though perhaps ambitious, this will be the first time a telescope anywhere near this size or power has been built for the purpose of research by students and the public primarily. The concept behind this is somewhat similar to Foldit (a puzzle game that allows the user to make legitimate contributions to science by folding proteins as efficiently as possible, it has led to many breakthroughs in disease eradication and the understanding of biological structures), wherein a larger pool of observers — even amateur — could easily lead to a greater number of game-changing observations and research opportunities.

Among LSST’s primary scientific goals are scanning the deep sky for signatures of dark energy and/or dark matter through gravitational lensing. This is a phenomena whose observation has been met with varying degrees of success, mostly little, and could finally shed light on many of the biggest questions about our universe, and with luck even some we haven’t thought to ask yet. Another of its goals, and perhaps the most ambitious, is coming up with the first, fully detailed map of the Milky Way galaxy. This is part of a ten year assignment that will begin in early 2022, and will involve mapping out small objects in the Kuiper belt as well as events such as supernovae.

To me this is probably the most exciting project currently being worked on by the scientific community (unless you count that pseudo-immortality thing, I’m down with living to observe all of human history) with one of the main reasons being its usability by anyone and everyone with the aptitude to do so. Projects like this one could very well begin a new age of science as a facet of our very culture, or at the least something that the public takes a far more active interest in. As loathe as I am to use the word “ambitious” a third time while writing this, that’s the most accurate term I can think of to describe this project, outside of “ballsy” and “kickass” perhaps. My only issue is that the world has to wait eight years to see it come to fruition.

 You can learn more about the LSST project here and here.

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