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All the Sky – All the Time: UK astronomers debate involvement in the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST)

24 June 2014

LSST 2014

Image: A combination of two renderings, showing the telescope on the summit. March 2011 (Credit LSST Corporation)

Astronomers discussed the case for UK involvement in the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope project (LSST) on Monday 23 June at the National Astronomy Meeting in Portsmouth. The LSST will be sited at Cerro Pachón in the Chilean Andes and will have a primary mirror 8.4 metres in diameter, making it one of the largest single telescopes in the world, as well as the world’s largest digital camera, comprising 3.2 billion pixels. It will achieve first light in 2020 and its main sky survey will begin in 2022.

Uniquely, the LSST will be able to see a large patch of sky, 50 times the area of the full Moon, in each snapshot. Also it will move quickly, taking more than 800 images each night and photographing the entire southern sky twice each week.

A powerful data system will compare new images with previous ones to detect changes in brightness and position of all the objects detected. As just one example, this could be used to detect and track potentially hazardous asteroids that might impact the Earth and cause significant damage.

Billions of galaxies, stars and solar system objects will be seen for the first time and monitored over 10 years. Ultimately, the goal is to record the greatest movie ever made.

LSST is a partnership between public and private organizations and is led by the US. The unique scientific opportunities presented by LSST have led to the formation of a consortium of astronomers from more than 30 UK universities to seek funding from the Science and Technology Facilities Council to support UK participation in the project.

Steve Kahn, the LSST Director added, "I am delighted that the UK is seriously considering participation in LSST. The UK's traditional strength in survey astronomy and the pioneering work done through the Zooniverse project to engage the public make it a natural partner for us.  We would greatly value the contribution that the UK astronomy community would bring to enable the success of LSST."

The science themes of the LSST encompass astronomy, physics, chemistry, earth science, space science, mathematics, technology and computing, and the discoveries made by the LSST will be used to construct educational materials that will be freely available to schools and the public. The LSST will provide unprecedented access to data, allowing for new kinds of citizen science and discovery. Andrew Norton from the Open University, the LSST:UK Education and Public Outreach Coordinator, said, "The LSST will allow us to see the night sky changing in front of our eyes and everyone can get involved to understand how the Universe works. The LSST will really show us what a dynamic place the Universe is."

UCL Physics and Astronomy joined LSST in 2013 through an institutional memorandum of agreement. The researchers currently involved in the project are: Hiranya Peiris (UCL institutional representative), Filipe Abdalla, Jay Farihi, Benjamin Joachimi, Ofer Lahav and Amelie Saintonge. Their interests span the breadth of LSST's extensive science programme. Dr. Joachimi presented the prospects for weak gravitational lensing with the LSST at the NAM meeting.