Large Synoptic Survey Telescope Project Receives Top Priority Ranking From National Academy of Sciences-Mellon College of Science - Carnegie Mellon University

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Large Synoptic Survey Telescope Project Receives Top Priority Ranking From National Academy of Sciences

CMU Scientists Will Contribute Astronomical Survey of the Universe

Artist rendering of LSST. Michael Mullen Design, LSST Corporation
Artist rendering of LSST. Michael Mullen Design, LSST Corporation

PITTSBURGH-A committee convened by the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a decadal survey of astronomy and astrophysics has ranked the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), a collaborative research project in which Carnegie Mellon University is a partner, as its top priority among ground-based projects.

The committee's report titled "New World and New Horizons in Astronomy in Astrophysics" evaluates astrophysics and astronomy programs in terms of their risks, readiness, schedule and costs. Findings from this survey serve as a recommendation to the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA and the Department of Energy (DoE) about which projects should receive funding over the next 10 years. 

In the report the committee recommended that the NSF and DoE consider the LSST for immediate funding, citing that the telescope was poised to accomplish the research goals set forth by the survey and was the "most ready-to-go" among ground-based projects. The telescope should achieve "first light" by the end of the decade.

"We couldn't be more pleased that the LSST has received such a strong endorsement from the National Academy of Sciences," said Fred Gilman, dean of CMU's Mellon College of Science and the Buhl Professor of Theoretical Physics, and a member of the LSST's board of directors. "The report calls the LSST ‘a treasure trove of discovery.' I believe that the completion of this project will allow us to view the universe as it has never been seen before."

CMU joined the LSST project in 2008. An interdisciplinary group of physicists, computer scientists and statisticians from CMU's Bruce and Astrid McWilliams Center for Cosmology will partner with researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center and other collaborating institutions to explore the universe with the LSST. 

Located atop Cerro Pachón, a mountain in northern Chile, the 8.4-meter LSST is scheduled to begin full survey operations six years after construction begins. It will survey the entire visible sky deeply in multiple colors each week using the world's largest digital camera (3.2 billion pixels). The survey will last for 10 years and will produce 2,000 images of every part of the sky over 20,000 square degrees, producing 30 terabytes of data per night and yielding a total database of 100 petabytes. The massive data set will be used to construct a color "movie" of the sky that will enable unique and powerful studies of objects that move or change in brightness, like near-Earth asteroids and exploding massive stars in the distant universe. The data from the LSST also will be used to trace billions of remote galaxies, measure the distortions in their shapes produced by lumps of dark matter and provide multiple tests of dark energy.

The database and resulting catalogs will be made available to the U.S. and Chilean communities with no proprietary restrictions. A sophisticated data management system will provide easy access, enabling simple queries and exploration of the images by individual users, allowing the public to share in discoveries made by the telescope. 

Thirty-four universities and national laboratories have joined together in a public-private partnership to build the LSST. The NSF and DoE have contributed funds for the design and development of the telescope project. Significant private support has come from Charles Simonyi and Bill Gates.

More information about the LSST including current images, graphics and animation can be found at


About Carnegie Mellon University: Carnegie Mellon ( is a private, internationally ranked research university with programs in areas ranging from science, technology and business, to public policy, the humanities and the arts. More than 11,000 students in the university's seven schools and colleges benefit from a small student-to-faculty ratio and an education characterized by its focus on creating and implementing solutions for real problems, interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation. A global university, Carnegie Mellon's main campus in the United States is in Pittsburgh, Pa. It has campuses in California's Silicon Valley and Qatar, and programs in Asia, Australia, Europe and Mexico. The university is in the midst of a $1 billion fundraising campaign, titled "Inspire Innovation: The Campaign for Carnegie Mellon University," which aims to build its endowment, support faculty, students and innovative research, and enhance the physical campus with equipment and facility improvements.