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Major Gifts Bring LSST Closer to Reality

The proposed Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) that will scan deep space to understand dark matter and dark energy has just been gifted with $30 million.

The Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences, created by former Microsoft executive and space tourist Simonyi, donated $20 million to the LSST. His once-colleague, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, joined in with $10 million. The money will enable the construction of three specialized large mirrors, which take more than five years to manufacture, and other key components for what will be the world's most powerful survey telescope.

"These exciting gifts come at a good time for the LSST and are vital for the LSST's ability to help us understand the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy,” said Steven Kahn, director of Particle Physics and Astrophysics at SLAC.

The LSST is a public-private partnership with 22 members, including the SLAC- and Stanford-run Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC). KIPAC leads the work to design and build the telescope's six-foot-tall, 3-billion pixel camera, the biggest digital camera ever built.

Beginning in 2014 atop Cerro Pachón in Chile, the 8.4-meter telescope will capture and record images every 10 seconds, making a survey of the available sky every three nights. These unprecedented three-dimensional maps of the distribution of mass in the universe will show the locations of clusters of dark matter, which in turn will help explain the perplexing force of dark energy that propels the universe to expand at accelerating rates.

The superb images will also create a movie-like view of objects that change or move on rapid timescales: exploding supernovae, potentially hazardous near-Earth asteroids, and distant Kuiper Belt Objects. The LSST will produce 30 terabytes of data per night, yielding a total database of 150 petabytes. Dedicated facilities will process this data in real time and will make it publicly available.

Design and development activity is supported in part by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, with additional funding from the Institut National de Physique Nucleaire et de Physique des Particules (IN2P3) in France, private donations, grants to universities and other LSST Corporation institutional members.

Heather Rock Woods, SLAC Today, January 4, 2008

Above image: KIPAC leads the R&D effort for the LSST camera, pictured here in cutaway view. (Image courtesy of LSST Corporation.)