Sunday, January 11, 2015

The LSST is coming!

Starting in 2019, we're in for a treat (though I suspect it will be a bit scary, too).
LSST stands for Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, a name even astronomers agree is clunky for what has been described as the world's most powerful sky-mapping machine. While most telescopes can take only snapshots of a narrow sliver of space, LSST will scan the heavens continuously in wide swaths.

The telescope will produce an image of the entire southern sky every three days - a feat that would take the Hubble Space Telescope 120 years to accomplish once.

The result will be the equivalent of time-lapse cinematography, allowing astronomers to track the motion of billions of objects and watch as galaxies collide and stars are born and die.

"It will be the greatest color movie of all time," Ivezic said.
With the LSST, astronomers will be able to note the movement of celestial bodies in the resulting image, which will be constantly updating. This will give us a much better handle on the asteroids, comets and perhaps errant suns or planets that are heading our way -- and I'll bet the images finally scare us into doing something to prepare. Probably, soon after it turns on, scientists will note this, that and the other asteroid heading for Earth. Right now, we're in the dark about these threats. Ah, bliss.

When we open this wide-view window on the universe, we'll certainly encounter new phenomena, and perhaps we'll learn a thing or two about fear. One well-placed comet or asteroid and we're not only toast -- our entire history will disappear from the universe. It will be as if we never were.

Now that's something to worry about, but not yet. Wait till 2019.