NSF Authorizes Agreement for the Construction of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope
By Jocelyn Duffy
PITTSBURGH -- The National Science Foundation (NSF) has authorized a cooperative agreement with the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) for construction of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), which will digitally image the sky for a decade. The LSST will be built through an NSF and Department of Energy (DOE) partnership. NSF will provide $473M for the telescope, site, data management, education and outreach, and the DOE will provide about $165M for the 3.1 billion pixel camera and related instrumentation.
Early development of the LSST was carried out by the LSST Corporation, a consortium of universities, laboratories, and research institutes. Carnegie Mellon and its McWilliams Center for Cosmology has been deeply involved since joining the consortium in 2008, with Fred Gilman, Dean of the Mellon College of Science, serving as both a member of the LSST Corporation Executive Board and as chair of the AURA Council that oversees the LSST's construction. Major milestones that led to the start of construction included the National Research Council's 2010 Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey committee naming the LSST as the top-ranked ground-based facility, and the NSF, then under the direction of current Carnegie Mellon President Subra Suresh, giving the go-ahead to final design in 2012.
The Telescope's major mirrors have already been largely constructed using gifts from the Charles and Lisa Simonyi Foundation, Bill Gates, and others. The official start of federal funding allows the project to begin to construct the summit facility in Chile, the telescope mount assembly, and the camera lenses. When the LSST project is completed, which is projected to be in 2022, the telescope will create a new paradigm for ground-based astronomy by scanning the sky over and over again, collecting many petabytes of data each year. This data promises to yield exciting new discoveries across the face of astronomy, from the motions of present-day asteroids to establishing the history of our galaxy and understanding the nature of dark matter and dark energy.
Carnegie Mellon faculty members are actively engaged in preparing to do science with the LSST data, and have taken a number of leadership roles. For example, Associate Professor Rachel Mandelbaum is on the Science Advisory Committee for the LSST project. She and Assistant Professor Shirley Ho are each co-leaders of working groups in the LSST Dark Energy Science Collaboration. Professors Rupert Croft and Tiziana DiMatteo and Assistant Professor Hy Trac are lending their expertise to the task of developing the enormous volume of cosmological simulations that will be needed to interpret the LSST data. Faculty from Physics, Statistics and School of Computer Science (SCS) are working together to develop simulation and analysis tools that will permit enormous improvements in extracting science from LSST data, exemplified by the research supported by a recent Department of Energy grant to Professors Ho, Mandelbaum, and Trac in Physics, Jeff Schneider and Barnabas Poczos in SCS, and Christopher Genovese in Statistics.