World’s largest digital camera sensors capture first 3,200-megapixel images

The complete focal plane of the future LSST Camera is more than 2 feet wide.
The complete focal plane of the future LSST Camera is more than 2 feet wide. Credit: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have taken the first 3,200-megapixel digital photos – the largest ever taken in a single shot. The images were taken using an extraordinary array of imaging sensors that will be integrated into the world’s largest digital camera, currently under construction at SLAC.

The images are so large that it would take 378 4K ultra-high-definition TV screens to display one of them in full size, with a resolution that allows you to see a golf ball from about 15 miles (25 km) away. The team is now preparing to install this array of imaging sensors into an ultra-sensitive telescope that will be able to spot objects 100 million times dimmer than those visible to the naked eye.

The complete focal plane of the future LSST Camera is more than 2 feet (more than 60 centimeters) wide and contains 189 individual sensors, or charge-coupled devices (CCDs), that will produce 3,200-megapixel images. This is large enough to capture the size of a 40-moons-sized portion of the sky. Each individual sensors bring 16 megapixels to the table – about the same number as the imaging sensors of most modern digital cameras.

Its resolution is so high that you could spot a golf ball from 15 miles away.
Its resolution is so high that you could spot a golf ball from 15 miles away. Credit: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Using this sensor array, the researchers captured a variety of different subjects, including a head of Romanesco – a type of broccoli. Given the size of the photos, the team developed a web application that will allow you to check out incredibly detailed images. These photos were taken as a test after the initial assembly of the image sensor.

Once installed at Rubin Observatory in Chile, the camera will produce panoramic images of the complete Southern sky – one panorama every few nights for ten years, capturing more than 20 billion galaxies. The purpose of this whole initiative is to increase our understanding of dark matter, dark energy, and the cosmos in general.

SLAC’s Steven Kahn, director of the observatory, said, “This achievement is among the most significant of the entire Rubin Observatory Project. The completion of the LSST Camera focal plane and its successful tests is a huge victory by the camera team that will enable Rubin Observatory to deliver next-generation astronomical science.”