When you’re building the world’s largest digital camera, to power one of the world’s most impressive telescopes, you’re going to need to manufacture one of the world’s most incredible lenses. That’s how this massive, 5.1-foot wide optic—the largest high-performance optical lens ever made—came to be.
Th 3.2-gigapixel camera being built for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) was thought up over a decade ago. But after getting the green light in 2011, and securing funding in 2015, it was off to the races as engineers and scientists began to turn this idea into a functioning reality.
The camera features the largest CCD image sensor mosaic in the world, combining 189 individual sensors into a single 3.2-gigapixel imaging area that—once it’s operational and perched atop Cherro Pachon mountain in Chile—will snap a 15-second exposure of the night sky every 20 seconds or so. This will enable the telescope to capture the entire visible southern sky every few nights!
But a sensor is nothing without some optics, and in the case of the LSST, that includes three massive mirrors, and two lens elements: the 5.1-foot wide L1 lens element we’re talking about today, and a “smaller” companion lens element that’s “only” 3.9 feet wide. According to a press release published by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), the primary lens is “believed to be the world’s largest high-performance optical lens ever fabricated.”
The two lenses were made by Colorado-based Ball Aerospace and its subcontractor, Tucson-based Arizona Optical Systems, over the course of five years, mounted together in a carbon fiber structure, and then shipped by truck from Tucson, AZ to the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, where there was a bit of a celebration, some fist bumps, and a bunch of photographs taken upon the lens’ safe arrival.
Here’s a closer look at this record-breaking optic:
Credit for the creation of this incredible lens goes to LLNL optical scientists Lynn Seppala and Brian Bauman and LLNL engineers Vincent Riot, Scott Winters and Justin Wolfe, whose work “spanning a period of nearly two decades” helped make all of the LSST camera’s optics a reality.
To learn more about this amazing lens element and the record-breaking camera that it will become a part of, head over to the LLNL website or scroll through more pictures on the SLAC Lab’s Flickr account.
Image credits: All photographs by Farrin Abbott, courtesy of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.