The largest digital photographs ever taken in a single shot have been captured by the imaging sensors which will form the heart of the upcoming Vera Rubin Observatory.
The photographs are 3,200 megapixels, and each would require 378 4K displays to show them in full size, and they have such high resolution that a golf ball could be viewed from 15 miles away. The sensors will be integrated into the observatory where they will be used to detect faint sources of light in the night sky.
The subjects of the photographs include a head of romanesco lettuce, a famous wood engraving, and Vera Rubin herself. These images act as a test of the observatory camera’s focal plane, equivalent to the imaging sensor on your digital camera, which will be used in a sky survey called the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST).
“This is a huge milestone for us,” Vincent Riot, LSST Camera project manager, said in a statement. “The focal plane will produce the images for the LSST, so it’s the capable and sensitive eye of the Rubin Observatory.”
The statistics of the focal plane are impressive: It contains 3.2 billion pixels, each of which is just 10 microns wide. The focal plane also had to be as flat as possible, with deviations of no more than a tenth of the width of a human hair, to ensure that the captured images are sharp.
The completion of the focal plane is a major step in the progress of the observatory, Steven Kahn, director of the observatory, said in the statement: “This achievement is among the most significant of the entire Rubin Observatory Project. 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.”
The Vera Rubin Observatory is named after pioneering dark matter researcher Vera Rubin, whose work observing the size and mass large galaxies provided some of the earliest evidence of the existence of dark matter. The observatory, previously named the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, will photograph the entire night sky every few days once it is complete.
The potential uses of the LSST survey cover everything from identifying objects visiting from outside our solar system to spotting potentially dangerous asteroids before they reach Earth.
The observatory is set to take its first light image next year.