From DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory via Science Times: “The World’s Largest Camera Has Taken the First 3,200 Megapixel Images at SLAC”

From DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory


Science Times

Science Times

Dec 28, 2020
Erika P.

The world’s largest digital camera is capable of taking 3.2 billion pixel photographs, which is the largest single-shot photos ever taken. This camera is scheduled to be transferred to the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, designed to survey the southern sky for the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST).

SLAC 3200 megapixel camera for Vera C Rubin Observatory

NOIRLab Vera C. Rubin Observatory Telescope currently under construction on the El Peñón peak at Cerro Pachón Chile, a 2,682-meter-high mountain in Coquimbo Region, in northern Chile, alongside the existing Gemini South and Southern Astrophysical Research Telescopes, altitude 2,715 m (8,907 ft).

This camera will help astronomers peer back into the universe and understand how galaxies evolve, and answer questions about how dark matter mesh with reality. This camera will also help scientists observe some of the dimmest light of the universe that hopefully could help them see far back of the universe’s history.

But before using this to observing space, the scientists used the camera first on vegetables, which they first took a snap of the first 3,200 megapixel photos. Scientists at Stanford University’s SLAC Laboratory had to construct a bigger camera than the typical smartphone camera to produce ultra high definition photos.

Taking the first 3,200-megapixel images was an important first test for the focal plane. To do so without a fully assembled camera, the SLAC team used a 150-micron pinhole to project images onto the focal plane. Left: Schematic of a pinhole projector that projects images of a Romanesco’s detailed texture onto the focal plane. Right: SLAC’s Yousuke Utsumi and Aaron Roodman remove the pinhole projector from the cryostat assembly after projecting the first images onto the focal plane. Explore the test images in full resolution using the links at the bottom of this press release. Credit: Greg Stewart/Jacqueline Orrell/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

How Does the World’s Largest Camera Work?

The camera is as big as the SUV and has 189 individual light sensors that bring 16 megapixels of data or a total of 3,200 megapixels, according to an article in Inverse. The 189 light sensors are grouped in nine sets, and their supporting electronics were constructed into square units called “science rafts.”

The camera team inserted 21 of these science rafts and four additional non-imaging rafts to form the final camera. According to SLAC mechanical engineer Hannah Pollek, who worked on this project, this process was extremely delicate.

“The combination of high stakes and tight tolerances made this project very challenging. But with a versatile team, we pretty much nailed it,” Pollek said.

Moreover, the focal plan does not only contain 3.2 billion pixels, but its pixels are also very small, and the focal plane itself is extremely flat, measuring about ten microns wide and less than one-tenth of a human hair, respectively.

These properties make it possible for the camera to take sharp images of a full-frame consumer camera and large enough to take photos of a portion of the sky with 40 full moons, SLAC’s press release stated.

Lastly, the whole camera is designed in a way that imaging sensors could detect objects that are over 10 million times dimmer than objects that are visible to the naked eye. In other words, it can spot an object or let a person see a lit candle from thousands of miles away.

What’s Next With the World’s Largest Digital Camera?

The SLAC team captured a few photos using items found in the lab before taking the camera from Northern California to its final destination in Chile. They took a photo of the fractal-like romanesco broccoli and Vera Rubin’s photo, the namesake of the observatory conducting the LSST.

These 3,200-megapixel photos are by far the largest, single-shot images ever taken that it would at least 378 4K ultra-high-definition TV screens to view its full size.

The success of taking these initial photos plays a significant role in capturing and understanding the universe. It is a milestone that brings the scientists to s big step closer in exploring fundamental questions about the cosmos in ways that were not yet explored before, said SLAC’s chief research officer and associate lab director for fundamental physics, JoAnne Hewett.

The camera is scheduled to be transferred in 2021 to the Rubin Observatory.

Vera C. Rubin Observatory LSST Camera.

See the full article here .


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SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the DOE’s Office of Science.

SLAC National Accelerator Lab


SLAC/LCLS II projected view

SLAC LCLS-II Undulators The Linac Coherent Light Source’s new undulators each use an intricately tuned series of magnets to convert electron energy into intense bursts of X-rays. The “soft” X-ray undulator stretches for 100 meters on the left side of this hall, with the “hard” x-ray undulator on the right. Credit: Alberto Gamazo/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

SSRL and LCLS are DOE Office of Science user facilities.