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New Telescope to unveil Dark Energy

In the past month, both Bill Gates and Charles Simonyi (a former Microsoft executive, space tourist and billionaire) donated sizeable chunks of money to the production of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). So, just what exactly is the LSST?

The LSST is an innovative telescope being constructed on a mountain in Northern Chile that will provide digital imagining of astronomical objects far, far away. Under development since 2000 (and intended for completion by 2014), the LSST is being funded and constructed by a public-private partnership that now incorporates over twenty organizations - including Google Inc., various research facilities and universities such as Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Stanford and Carnegie Mellon. The ground-based 8.4-meter telescope is designed be the world's most powerful survey telescope, with a built-in 3200 Megapixel digital camera - the largest camera ever constructed.

Containing three large mirrors (which will be paid for with 30 million dollars provided by Mr. Gates and Mr. Simonyi) and three refractive lenses, the camera will have a 10 square degree field of view with very high image quality. The LSST will take a series of 15-second exposures of the night's sky every three nights and, over the course of ten years, about 2,000 exposures will be acquired from every part of the sky - essentially creating a "movie" of the evolving universe. It will provide detailed pictures of everything from supernovae (exploding stars) to potential killer asteroids to the most distant objects in the solar system.

Pictures taken with the LSST also will allow researchers to produce three-dimensional maps of the mass distribution in the universe, which may help give scientists more insight into the strange phenomenon that has come to be known as "dark energy". Looking up into the night sky, the only things that can be seen are those that emit a glow - like stars, galaxies and planets. Dark energy is a force that cannot be seen but whose presence can be inferred by its gravitational effect. The belief among many scientists is that the dark matter in the sky is actually made up of burnt-out stars, and energy coming from that matter is responsible for the expansion of the universe. Through the LSST's images, scientists hope to get a measurement of the amount of dark energy in the sky and perhaps learn more about the nature of this unknown force.

Upon completion, the LSST facility will be open to the public and the resulting data and images collected from the telescope will be made available to the community at large. A sophisticated data management system will provide easy access for everyone from school kids and space buffs to professionals and research scientists.

To learn more about the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, visit www.lsst.org