Behind the Scenes: Visiting the World’s Largest Digital Camera and Optical Lens

A couple of weeks ago, we shared some photos of the world’s largest optical lens, which had just been shipped to the SLAC laboratory in Menlo Park, CA, where it would be joined with the world’s largest digital camera. Unfortunately, we obviously weren’t actually there for the reveal of this record breaking lens, but YouTube channel Physics Girl was.

For those of you who haven’t followed our coverage of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), here are the cliff notes. The LSST will live on a mountain in Chile, where it will use a 3.2-gigapixel camera and some massive optics to capture a 15-second exposure of the night sky every 20 seconds. At this rate, the LSST will be able to image the entire visible southern sky every few nights.

But the world’s largest digital camera can’t just snap photos on its own—it needs the world’s largest lens. That’s where this monster comes in:

Photo by Farrin Abbott, courtesy of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

This is, without a doubt, one of the most incredible pieces of optical engineering in history: a two-lens system made of fused silica that’s 5-feet wide and took 5 years and $20 million to create. We shared several photos of this lens last month after it arrived at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California, but Physics Girl host Dianna Cowern was actually invited down to the laboratory to witness the arrival and reveal for herself, and see the camera that it would be going inside.

She was appropriately impressed:

“It’s easy to forget that this is a camera lens. The one we were looking at, that piece of glass, is a five-food marvel. It looked like a perfect water droplet,” says Cowern.

In addition to capturing video of the lens as it was (very very VERY carefully) revealed, Cowern was also able to go inside the clean room and see the 3.2-gigapixel camera itself, which she found even more awe-inspiring. This is about the closest look we’ve gotten so far at this camera, and it will be one of only a few because, once fully assembled, many of these components won’t be visible any longer.

So whether you’re interested in science, camera sensors, optics, telescopes, or just want to see something amazing, definitely check out the full video up top. And if you want to see many more pictures of this lens, click here.

(via Reddit)

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