Four major research organizations have joined forces to build a world-class telescope that will survey the entire sky in a relentless search for supernovae, gamma-ray bursts, near-Earth asteroids and the mysterious energy of expansion in the Universe known as dark energy.
The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) Corporation Inc. has been formed by Research Corporation, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) Inc., the University of Arizona (UA), and the University of Washington, for the purpose of designing and constructed this challenging new telescope. The corporation held its first meeting on April 16.
The LSST will use an 8-meter primary mirror and a two-billion-pixel digital camera to scan the complete visible night sky every week to a deep magnitude. Its steady flood of images will be supported by a robust computer data pipeline, designed from the start to make the LSST’s daily output of five terabytes readily accessible by astronomers from all over the world.
The telescope will be capable of discovering 100,000 supernovae per year and 10,000 or more Trans-Neptunian objects at the extreme edge of the solar system. It will also survey virtually all stars within the nearest 100 light-years for evidence of planets around them by precisely measuring their astrometric motion on the sky.
The LSST was one of the two highest priorities for future ground-based telescope facilities in the most recent Decadal Survey of astronomy conducted by the National Academy of Sciences. “LSST will open a new frontier in addressing time variable phenomena in astronomy,” according to the May 2000 academy report Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium.
The immediate goal of the LSST Corporation is to prepare a detailed design for consideration by funding organizations and foundations, toward telescope first light as early as 2011. No site has yet been selected for the telescope.
“The LSST is the next big leap in charting the heavens, and an exciting technological challenge,” said Research Corporation President John Schaefer, who was elected chair of the LSST Corporation board at its first meeting. “It provides Research Corporation an opportunity to fulfill an important role as a catalyst in enabling leading-edge science to take place.”
“The LSST Corporation is a landmark public-private partnership,” said Jeremy Mould, director of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) in Tucson, which represents AURA in the new organization. “The formal existence of this corporation is a concrete step in the construction of this powerful telescope, and a symbol of how most large astronomical facilities will be built in the future.”
“With the establishment of the LSST Corporation, we can begin to implement this very innovative and powerful telescope concept, originally proposed by Roger Angel,” said Peter Strittmatter, director of the Steward Observatory. “The LSST presents not only unique opportunities for astronomical science, but major challenges for optics fabrication and alignment. We look forward to playing our part in meeting these challenges.”
“The University of Washington is drawing upon its strong heritage in time-domain and survey astronomy to help address the survey’s formidable data processing challenges,” said Christopher Stubbs, a UW astronomy and physics professor who serves on the LSST board. “In addition, the UW’s experience with building wide-field astronomical camera systems will be beneficial in developing needed instrumentation.”
For further information on the LSST, see: www.lsst.org
NOAO operates Kitt Peak National Observatory southwest of Tucson and the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory near La Serena, Chile. NOAO is also the gateway for U.S. astronomers to use the international Gemini telescopes via the NOAO Gemini Science Center. NOAO is operated by AURA under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation.
A foundation for the advancement of science, Research Corporation was established in 1912 by scientist, inventor, and philanthropist Frederick Gardner Cottrell. It provides an average of $6 million per year in support of faculty in chemistry, physics and astronomy at colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada. Research Corporation’s long-standing support of astronomy includes partnerships in the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) and in operating the 12-meter radio telescope at Kitt Peak.
UA is a state institution of higher education in Arizona. UA includes, among its research units, the Steward Observatory (SO), which operates observatory facilities on Kitt Peak, Mt. Lemmon, Mt. Hopkins, and Mt. Graham for the benefit of faculty and students at the Arizona state universities. It is also a partner in the LBT, the Magellan Project, and the Multiple Mirror Telescope Observatory, and it operates the Mirror Lab on the UA campus.
The University of Washington is the nation’s premier public university in sponsored research, and plays a leading role in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.