World's largest digital camera to research elusive dark matter, dark energy

The 3,200-megapixel LSST camera is readied for transport to the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile to help learn more about the universe and how dark matter and dark energy might affect it. Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Ramseyer Orrell/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory/UPI

April 3 (UPI) -- Scientists have big expectations for a really big space camera.

The 3,200-megapixel Legacy Survey of Space and Time camera will reveal what so far has remained unseen and only exists in scientific theory -- dark matter and dark energy.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science has supported the development of the LSST camera to obtain new insights into how natural forces make the universe what it is.

No device has captured proof of dark matter, but it leaves its mark on the universe by gravitationally affecting how galaxies rotate and it could be five times more abundant than visible matter, according to the DOE in announcing the LSST's debut.

Dark energy, likewise, exists only in a theory that suggests it is what causes the universe to continually accelerate its expansion.

About 95% of the universe's mass-energy is thought to be dark energy and dark matter, which offer theoretical explanations about why stars, planets and galaxies behave the way they do, according to

Dark matter produces no light or energy, which makes it invisible to existing technology. Scientists only have made educated guesses regarding what might be the building blocks of dark matter and dark energy.

The LSST camera will be placed at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory being built in a remote area in Chile. The observatory will be situated near the top of Cerro Pachon more than 8,900 feet above sea level and have an unobstructed view of the Earth's southern skies.

The camera weighs 3 tons, which is the largest ever made for astronomy, and uses the highest resolution camera ever made at 3,200 megapixels.

The camera has three very large lenses, with the largest of them measuring more than 5 feet in diameter. Each lens can open for 15 seconds to take photos of space and switch lenses in five seconds before taking the next photo.

The camera includes six special filters that scientists can change as needed to analyze different types of light, including near-infrared, ultraviolet and visible light, to obtain different types of photographic data.

The extremely high-resolution camera will take highly detailed photos that could detect a golf ball from 15 miles away while taking photographs that capture a section of the nighttime sky that is seven times wider than the full moon.

Two decades of development have gone into designing and building the camera, which will take photos of billions of galaxies and some 37 billion celestial bodies. Scientists will use the camera to create the largest photographic catalog of data in existence.

Scientists at the DOE's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory led the camera's development and are helping to transport it and place it in the Rubin Observatory in Chile.