Photographing Space

The world's largest digital camera - which can spot a golf ball from 15 miles away - could unlock mysteries of the universe.

When the Vera Rubin Observatory (the first national US observatory named after a female astronomer) begins observations in 2023, its SUV-size camera will be able to capture complete panoramas of the southern sky every few nights. And that requires a spectacular new type of camera capable of taking 3,200 megapixel images.

To put that in to perspective, these 3,200-megapixel images are so enormous that they would require 378 4K ultra-high-definition TV screens to showcase just one of them at its full size. Be that as it may the Vera Rubin Observatory will be able to catalogue of billions of galaxies and astrophysical objects, essentially creating "the largest astronomical movie of all time" and help unlock the mysteries of the universe.

The observatory's capabilities will enable it to spot faint objects 100 million times dimmer than what we can see with the naked eye. It's designed to map the Milky Way, explore dark energy and dark matter, and survey the solar system. During the 10-year survey, the camera is expected to image 20 billion galaxies.

"These data will improve our knowledge of how galaxies have evolved over time and will let us test our models of dark matter and dark energy more deeply and precisely than ever," said one of the project scientists. "The observatory will be a wonderful facility for a broad range of science - from detailed studies of our solar system to studies of faraway objects toward the edge of the visible universe."

Rubin, who died in 2016, once mentored fellow aspiring female astronomers and advocated for women in science. It's fitting that the first national US observatory named for a female astronomer is in her honour. Rubin, considered to be one of the most influential female astronomers, provided some of the first evidence that dark matter - which comprises much of the universe but can't be seen - existed.