The University of Portsmouth has become one of the latest supporters of a new telescope which is being built to produce movies of the sky.
The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will produce the widest, deepest and fastest views of the night sky ever observed when it begins in 2021.
Currently under construction in Chile, the LSST will take more than 800 panoramic images each night with its 3.2 billion-pixel camera, recording the entire southern sky twice each week.
Professor Bob Nichol, Director of the University’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation (ICG), said: “This new telescope will be located on a mountain-top site in the foothills of the Andes and over a 10-year time frame will capture tens of billions of objects in unprecedented detail.
“It will allow us to find hundreds of thousands more supernova than have ever been detected to date, and millions of asteroids. It’s a pioneering project which will produce data like we’ve never seen before, so I’m delighted that Portsmouth is on board.”
The universities of Portsmouth and Oxford are the only two UK institutional members of the LSST Corporation, which is primarily supported by the US National Science Foundation and the US Department of Energy.
Academics from ICG are involved with the preparation of the telescope at this stage, locating where in the sky it should observe and how often.
Professor Nichol said: “What’s so awesome about this project is its ability to access – for the first time – moving images of the night sky. In the past you could miss a supernova if you weren’t looking in the right direction at the right time. This survey will offer 100 times the amount of data we’ve had access to previously.
“It’s the next big thing in astronomy and the challenge will be sieving through all the data and finding out about the things we already know we don’t know – the known unknowns – but also finding the unknown unknowns – the things we don’t know we don’t know.”
The LSST will be able to image 10 square degrees of sky in one shot – or 40 times the size of the full moon. Each of its 30-second observations will be able to detect objects 10 million times fainter than visible with the human eye.
The LSST data will be used to locate the baffling substance of dark matter and explore the mysterious force of dark energy, which makes up the bulk of the universe and is causing its expansion to speed up.