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Top Telescope Project to Create “Movie” of the Night Sky

By Mason Spirit contributor on May 10, 2011

Photo courtesy of LSST Corporation

The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), a research project that Mason recently signed on to, was listed by the National Academy of Sciences as one of the most important astronomical endeavors of the next decade.

The telescope, which researchers hope will be built and on line by the end of the decade, will create a 10-year-long “movie” of the section of sky visible from its perch atop a mountain in Chile. It will survey the sky deeply every three days using its three billion-pixel digital camera, the largest in the world.

It will also be able to track the faintest objects in the universe, such as small asteroids in our solar system, supernovae in distant galaxies, and any other objects that change their brightness or position in the sky.

Mason’s role in the project will involve designing the data-mining techniques that will sift through the massive amounts of data gathered by the telescope, which amounts to 30 terabytes of information every night. Kirk Borne, associate professor of astrophysics and computational sciences at Mason, is the liaison for the project and serves on the LSST board of advisors.

Borne also is leading a nationwide group that will conduct research with the LSST data repository, which will be one of the largest scientific databases ever assembled. The data archive will consist of nearly 100 petabytes of data, roughly equivalent to 100 times all the words printed in all the books in all the libraries in the world, Borne says.

“The team will provide open, public access to all these data—it will be the telescope for everyone,” says Borne. “The scientific discovery potential of the database is staggering, and the data-mining techniques developed by Mason scientists will enable countless new astronomical discoveries.”

—Tara Laskowski, MFA ’05

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