Surveying the Universe
The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope

Steven M. Kahn

  • Kirk Professor of Physics
  • Director, LSST Project
  • Stanford University

2361st Meeting Abstract
Friday, April 1, 2016 at 8:00 PM

About the Lecture

The goal of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) project is to conduct a 10-year survey of the sky that will deliver a 200 petabyte set of images and data products that will address some of the most pressing questions about the structure and evolution of the universe and the objects in it. The LSST survey is designed specifically to advance science in four particular areas: Dark Matter and Dark Energy; Hazardous Asteroids and the Remote Solar System; the Transient Optical Sky, and the Formation and Structure of the Milky Way

While the LSST is designed to address profound scientific questions, the technical concept behind the project is remarkably simple: conduct a deep survey over an enormous area of sky, do it with a frequency that enables images of every part of the visible sky to be obtained every few nights, and continue in this mode for ten years creating vast astronomical catalogs, thousands of times larger than any previously compiled.

As planned, the LSST will detect over three billion galaxies, providing detailed measurements of their red shifts, shapes, and properties.  Through a technique called weak gravitational lensing, these data will be used to map the structure of dark matter in the universe and to show how the structure of dark matter has evolved with cosmic time.  The results will provide very sensitive constraints on the nature of dark matter and dark energy.  The LSST will also provide crucial data on the structure of the outer regions of the Milky Way, make a census of moving objects in the solar system, and discover transient phenomena in the universe on a wide range of timescales.

The 8.4-meter LSST will use a special three-mirror design that provides an exceptionally wide field of view and has the ability to survey the entire sky in only three nights.  Its solid state detectors will contain more than three billion pixels to take advantage of this extremely wide field of view and the high-quality images produced by the optical design. The camera is designed to extremely high quality data over long period so time with minimal maintenance requirements and downtime.

The extremely wide field of view, large pixel count, high dynamic range and exquisite sensitivity of the optical train and detector electronics will produce more than 30 terabytes of high quality data every night.  Over time it will produce the largest non-proprietary data set in the world.  Storing and analyzing the data poses challenging hardware and software problems that constitute one of the most challenging aspects of the project.

This lecture will discuss the scientific roots of the LSST project, its support, optical and detector design, supporting computational hardware and software, current progress on the lens, telescope and facilities, the initial observations that are planned, and the results that are expected, including some hoped for surprises.

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About the Speaker

Dr. Robert M. Hazen

Steven M. Kahn is the Director of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). He oversees all aspects of project construction, and interactions with the funding organizations and the external scientific community.

Steve previously served as Associate Laboratory Director of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Chair of the Physics Departments at Stanford and at Columbia Universities, and as Director, Deputy Director and Associate Director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at Stanford University, the Columbia Astrophysics Laboratory, and the Space Sciences Laboratory at Berkeley. He also was the US Principal Investigator for development of the Reflection Grating Spectrometer currently flying on the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton Observatory.

He has made significant contributions to X-ray astronomy, specifically with respect to high resolution X-ray spectroscopy of cosmic sources. His current research interests focus on cosmological investigations using large optical surveys and the development of space and ground-based instrumentation.

He earned a BS at Columbia College, a PhD in Physics from UC Berkeley, and he was a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.


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