Vera C Rubin Observatory captures stunning, record-breaking first photo of broccoli

Pablo Tucker
September 11, 2020

The site is under construction. Every few nights, it will complete a detailed panorama of the whole sky, over a period of 10 years. And that requires a new type of camera never seen before.

The world's largest photo - cauliflower - could help humanity unravel some of the mysteries of the universe.

The photos are so large, in fact, that it would take 378 4K ultra-high-definition TV screens to display one of them in full size.

The camera itself was built and assembled in SLAC, which is the National Accelerator Laboratory operated by Stanford University for the U.S. Department of Energy and located in Menlo Park, California. "The completion of the LSST Camera focal plane and its successful tests is a huge victory by the camera team that will enable Rubin Observatory to deliver next-generation astronomical science".

"This is a huge milestone for us", according to Vincent Riot, LSST Camera project manager from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The focal plane was assembled in January and features 189 individual image sensors registering 16 megapixels each.

This enormous sensor that can capture 3200MP photos is over 61cm wide and has a huge focal plane - big enough to capture the size of a patch of sky equivalent to 40 full moons. The team is now preparing to install this array of imaging sensors into an ultra-sensitive telescope that will be able to spot objects 100 million times dimmer than those visible to the naked eye. It's created to map the Milky Way, explore dark energy and dark matter, and survey the solar system. In a single decade, the camera will collect images of about 20 billion galaxies, helping to improve scientists' knowledge of how star systems evolved over time. Utilizing the LSST Camera, the observatory will make the biggest cosmic film ever and shed light on the absolute greatest secrets of the universe, including tiresome issue and dim vitality.

The single image of Romanco, which is made of 2.2 billion pixels, is the largest ever taken in a single shot. Each grid of nine sensors is called a scientific raft, and 25 rafts had to be fitted into their spots along the grid. To amplify the imaging territory, the holes between sensors on neighboring pontoons are under five human hairs wide.

The pontoons are additionally expensive-up to $3 million each.

The central plane has been put inside a cryostat, where the sensors are chilled off to negative 150 degrees Fahrenheit, their necessary working temperature.

Similar to the imaging sensor inside your DSLR or smartphone, the focal plane captures light from or reflected by an object and converts it into electrical signals to produce a digital image.

The LSST Camera team at SLAC has released the first images taken using the LSST Camera focal plane. Rubin, considered to be one of the most influential female astronomers, provided some of the first evidence that dark matter - which comprises much of the universe but can't be seen - existed. This is because the images were taken without a lens and just with an exposed sensor.

"Taking these images is a major accomplishment", said SLAC's Aaron Roodman, the scientist responsible for the assembly and testing of the LSST Camera, in a statement. The camera is slated to make its move to Chile in 2021 for final testing and integration into the Rubin Observatory, the team says.

"It's a milestone that brings us a big step closer to exploring fundamental questions about the universe in ways we haven't been able to before", said said JoAnne Hewett, SLAC's chief research officer and associate lab director for fundamental physics, in a statement.

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