Staff engineer Hannah Pollek, right, observes closely as the LSST camera is lifted into a vertical position. Researchers at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory are nearly done with the LSST Camera, the world's largest digital camera ever built for astronomy. Roughly the size of a small car and weighing in at three tons, the camera features a five-foot wide front lens and a 3,200 megapixel sensor that will be cooled to -100°C to reduce noise. Once complete and in place atop the Vera C. Rubin Observatory's Simonyi Survey Telescope in Chile, the camera will survey the southern night sky for a decade, creating a trove of data that scientists will pore over to better understand some of the universe's biggest mysteries, including the nature of dark energy and dark matter. (Jacqueline Ramseyer Orrell/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

We are always told that smartphone cameras are amazing… and indeed they are. But what would happen with the imaging power of 260 iPhones? Well, a team at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in the US has developed the world’s biggest digital camera, known as LSST.

Engineers chose to build the camera with the end goal of putting it on an observatory deep in the Andes mountains in Chile. While The camera is not working at the moment, the SLAC National Accelerator Team says LSST will be up and running soon.

LSST or “Large Synoptic Survey Telescope” is a new digital camera that is still in development. Eventually, it will be put on the El Penon observatory which is located on Cerro Pachon at 2,682 meters in the Chilean Andes.

Here you will find the Southern and Gemini South Astrophysical Research Telescopes. The location is considered one of the best on Earth for an observatory.


To achieve a digital camera with the imaging capabilities of hundreds of iPhones, the team used 189 newly designed CCD sensors. Charge-couple device (CCD) sensors are integrated circuits that have linked capacitors. They are standard in digital imaging technology, and are especially important in cameras with ultra-high resolutions.

CCDs must be paired with a super-telephoto lens. When using multiple CCDs, it is important that they are aligned in an array perfectly. A single minor misalignment can cause sensors to be destroyed. With 189 to manage, the creators behind the LSST Camera had to tread carefully.

Each 16mm sensor holds a pixel count higher than the latest iPhone 14 Pro. This means the composite sensor has a resolution of 3.2 Gigapixels.

Now the engineers are testing a new shutter system for the camera. It is also developing a system that would allow the camera to change filters. Once it is ready, the LSST Camera will use its 1.57-meter telephoto lens and sensor composite array to take detailed images. For example, the team says it can take a photo of a dust particle over 200,000 miles away on the surface of the moon.

Once a cooling system is installed before the end of the year and tests are complete, the camera will head to Chile for an unveiling in May 2023.

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