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May 1, 2003

UW joins telescope effort

News and Information

The UW and three other organizations are joining forces to build a world-class telescope to search the heavens for supernovae, gamma-ray bursts, near-Earth asteroids and dark energy, the mysterious force behind the expansion of the universe.

The new entity, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope Corp. Inc., will use an 8-meter primary mirror and a 2 billion-pixel digital camera to scan all of the visible night sky once a week.

The system’s computer data pipeline will be designed to make the steady flow of images, totaling five terabytes a day, readily accessible to astronomers worldwide (a terabyte is about 1 trillion bytes of information).

The telescope will be able to find as many as 100,000 supernovae a year and 10,000 or more objects near or beyond the orbit of Neptune at the extreme edge of the solar system. It also will survey virtually all stars within 100 light years of Earth for evidence of orbiting planets.

The UW’s partners in the new corporation are Research Corp., the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc. and the University of Arizona.

No site for the telescope has been selected yet, but the immediate goal is to prepare a detailed design to establish funding and other support in an effort to make the telescope operational as early as 2011.

“The University of Washington is drawing upon its strong heritage in time-domain and survey astronomy to help address the survey’s formidable data processing challenges,” said Christopher Stubbs, a UW astronomy and physics professor. “In addition, the UW’s experience with building wide-field astronomical camera systems will be beneficial in developing needed instrumentation.”

The UW plays a leading role in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and did much of the design and fabrication work for the survey’s telescope mirror and optics.

Stubbs serves on the new corporation’s board of directors along with Craig Hogan, the UW’s vice provost for research. John Schaefer, president of Research Corp., was elected the board’s chairman.