Opening a Window of Discovery on the Dynamic Universe

LSST General Public FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions for the Public

Q: What is LSST?
Q: What does “Synoptic” mean?
Q: Why do we need LSST?
Q: Why did you choose to build the telescope in Chile?
Q: When will LSST be ready?
Q: How can LSST help teach my students science content in the classroom?
Q: Will LSST educational materials help me teach my science standards?
Q: How can LSST educational materials help me be a better teacher?
Q: What role will there be for amateur astronomers, since everything will have been discovered by LSST? What’s left for us to find?
Q: Who is involved with LSST?
Q: Why build an entirely new telescope for this task?
Q: Why should the general public care about LSST?
Q: Why an 8-meter mirror with a 3 degree field? Couldn’t a smaller telescope or an array of smaller telescopes do the same science in a somewhat longer time?
Q: Why not a space mission?
Q: Where does LSST rank among the many proposed national scientific facilities?
Q: Will it be possible to subscribe to real time alerts of LSST discoveries?
Q: Will LSST imaging data be available world-wide for scientific use?
Q: I would like to visit the LSST summit site to view, photograph, or film the facility. How do I arrange this?
Q: I would like to find someone to talk about LSST at my event, what should i do?
Q:  What does LSST think of the SpaceX Starlink news?
 

 



Q: What is LSST?

A: The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope is a revolutionary facility which will produce an unprecedented wide-field astronomical survey of our universe using an 8.4-meter ground-based telescope. LSST leverages innovative technology in all subsystems: the camera (3200 megapixels, the world’s largest digital camera), telescope (simultaneous casting of the primary and tertiary mirrors; two aspherical optical surfaces on one substrate), and data management (30 terabytes of data nightly, nearly instant alerts issued for objects that change in position or brightness). This innovation on all fronts has attracted some prominent donors who are innovators in technology, institutional members, and hundreds of other scientists.


Q: What does “Synoptic” mean?

A: Our use of the word derives from the Greek word “Synopsis” and refers to looking at all aspects of something. LSST is a synoptic survey in several ways: billions of objects will be imaged in six colors in an unprecedentedly large volume of our universe. This survey over half the sky also records the time evolution of these sources: the first motion picture of our universe.


Q: Why do we need LSST?

A: From its mountaintop site in Chile, LSST will image the entire visible sky every few nights, thus capturing changes and opening up the time-domain window to the observable universe. Ultimately, in 10 years of observing, the goal is to record the greatest movie ever made. LSST data will provide data to scientists and the public with manifold implications for science. Billions of objects in our universe will be seen for the first time and monitored over time. Outstanding mysteries in astronomy and physics will be uniquely addressed. With a thousand-fold increase in capability over current facilities, LSST is likely to make unexpected discoveries.


Q: Why did you choose to build the telescope in Chile?

A: The decision to place LSST on Cerro Pachón in Chile was made by an international site selection committee based on a competitive process. In short, modern telescopes are located in sparsely populated areas (to avoid light pollution), at high altitudes and in dry climates (to avoid cloud cover). In addition to those physical concerns, there are infrastructure issues. The ten best candidate sites in both hemispheres were studied by the site selection committee. Cerro Pachón was the overall winner in terms of quality of the site for astronomical imaging and available infrastructure. The result will be superb deep images from the ultraviolet to near infrared over the vast panorama of the entire southern sky.


Q: When will LSST be ready?

A: LSST received its federal construction start in 2014. Full science operations for the ten-year survey are scheduled to begin in October 2022. 


Q: How can LSST help teach my students science content in the classroom?

A: LSST investigations incorporate topics commonly taught in an introductory physics, Earth science, or astronomy class. Students explore and analyze data by accessing a website. Easy-to-use online tools do the heavy lifting of data querying and reduction, providing more time for students to focus on the process of science. Investigations will use high-quality LSST data as it becomes available, providing an authentic, relevant classroom experience.


Q: Will LSST educational materials help me teach my science standards?

A: All investigations are designed for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in the United States and the Curriculum Nacional in Chile. Each investigation has a dedicated teacher guide, which contains detailed three-dimensional assessment tools and options for classroom implementation. These tools focus on critical thinking and science literacy techniques, so they are applicable to all schools, colleges and universities.


Q: How can LSST educational materials help me be a better teacher?

A: Extensive teacher guides provide background on each topic, as well as suggestions for classroom implementation, written by experienced instructors. Teachers will have the opportunity to join online discussion groups, where they can exchange ideas and seek help. Professional development materials, news, and supplementary materials will also be accessible from the website. Best of all, LSST EPO will provide sustained human support, and investigation and data refreshes.


Q: What role will there be for amateur astronomers, since everything will have been discovered by LSST? What’s left for us to find?

A: LSST will detect millions of changes in the sky each clear night, providing countless opportunities for follow-up by experienced amateur astronomers. Those with advanced equipment will be able to track some of the events detected by LSST, such as a brightening comet or supernova, a newly-discovered near-Earth Object, or an unusual variable star. Some may prefer to contribute to the dozens of citizen science projects that will feature LSST data. Others may prefer to access the LSST EPO open database of objects to conduct their own research. With tens of billions of objects, there will be enough data for everyone to explore.


Q: Who is involved with LSST?

A: Meet the LSST Team and see a list of the current institutional members.


Q: Why build an entirely new telescope for this task?

A: Because no existing telescope can do what LSST will do. LSST is different from other ground-based telescopes in that it is a wide-field survey telescope and camera that can move quickly around the sky and image everything over and over. We describe it as Wide-Fast-Deep. That combination is unique: wide field of view (10 square degrees), short exposures (pairs of 15-second exposures), and sensitive camera (24th magnitude single images, 27th magnitude stacked). LSST is far more than a telescope. With its 3200 megapixel camera, supercomputer, and giant data processing, analysis, and distribution system, the LSST facility will produce an entirely new view of our universe enabling unforeseen explorations of discovery.


Q: Why should the general public care about LSST?

A: LSST will change the field of astronomy forever; it will make profound contributions to science from the moment it becomes operational. But it's not just scientists who will benefit—LSST will have an engaging website where anyone can go to see vibrant images of never-before-seen objects and phenomena, and to learn how these discoveries contribute to scientific knowledge and improve life on Earth. We'll direct people to citizen science projects where they can be be part of authentic research using LSST data, and provide teachers with unique classroom activities that engage students in astronomy like never before.  


Q: Why an 8-meter mirror with a 3-degree field? Couldn’t a smaller telescope or an array of smaller telescopes do the same science in a somewhat longer time?

A: Some of the science can’t be done at all with a smaller telescope, or group of small telescopes. For instance, the near-Earth object (NEO) survey is looking for things that won’t sit still for a long exposure. An exposure longer than 30 seconds becomes ineffective, and so finding the vast majority of NEOs which are small and faint requires a telescope that can collect a lot of light in that amount of time. Similarly, longer exposures on a smaller telescope will not help characterize faint transient objects lasting only seconds. In an array of smaller telescopes, longer exposures would be required (to reach sky-noise limit) as well as multiple gigapixel cameras. Some of the science can be done on a smaller telescope in a longer time, but consider the numbers: The speed with which you can survey an area of sky for objects of a given faintness is proportional to throughput (collecting area times field of view in meters squared degrees squared). LSST enables totally new windows on the universe because it has such a high throughput. For most of the exciting explorations of our universe, the total time would increase from 5 years to 50 years if LSST were shrunk to 4 meters and a 2-degree field of view. There is real value in being able to complete the project in less than several generations!


Q: Why not a space mission?

A: A few of the very deep probes of the universe would benefit somewhat from the higher angular resolution available in space. But they also require huge samples of objects over a wide area of sky (large volume of the universe). This Wide-Deep capability is hard to obtain in space. And the Wide-Fast-Deep capability would be lost: space telescopes have small collecting area compared to what can be built on the ground, leading to long exposures and loss of timing information. Since all of LSST’s science goals can be achieved from the ground, we must weigh the incremental benefit against the drawbacks. The science that drives the need for LSST requires ultra-deep and rapid wide-field imaging at optical wavelengths—a mission best achieved on the ground at a superb site.


Q: Where does LSST rank among the many proposed national scientific facilities?

A: Over the past decade six national reports have ranked LSST highly. This is because LSST is uniquely capable of attacking some of the greatest mysteries in astronomy and physics. National committees studying options for the next-generation facility have recommended LSST for its capability to study many fundamental questions in astronomy and physics all at the same time. Rather than building separate facilities to study near-Earth asteroids, or the outer solar system, or how our galaxy was formed, or the nature of energetic explosions in the universe, or the mysterious dark matter and dark energy, LSST has a sufficient light grasp (throughput) to undertake all these scientific programs simultaneously from the same Wide-Fast-Deep survey.


Q: Will it be possible to subscribe to real-time alerts of LSST discoveries?

A: Yes. Web alert pages and auto email alert services enabled by our data centers via the Virtual Observatory will permit users to custom filter alerts based on a number of classification parameters.


Q: Will LSST imaging data be available world-wide for scientific use?

A: LSST alerts and educational programs will be available world-wide; images and catalogs are available to scientists in the US and Chile and to international institutions that are supporting LSST operations.


Q: I would like to visit the LSST summit site to view, photograph, or film the facility. How do I arrange this?

A: Our site at the summit of Cerro Pachón is currently under construction, hence access to the site is restricted. From time to time we provide permission to access the site. Without the "Pase de Ingreso" you will not be allowed to proceed to the summit.  

To visit the site please complete the form on this page and and we will get in touch with you. We recommend that you contact us at least 3 months prior to your proposed visit date.


Q: I would like to find someone to talk about LSST at my event, what should i do?

A: Please get in touch via our contact form: https://www.lsst.org/contact


Q: What does LSST think of the SpaceX Starlink news?

A:  For LSST, Starlink satellites will be a nuisance rather than a real problem.  Here's our statement: http://ow.ly/XdLJ50uwJ8j

Financial support for LSST comes from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through Cooperative Agreement No. 1258333, the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science under Contract No. DE-AC02-76SF00515, and private funding raised by the LSST Corporation. The NSF-funded LSST Project Office for construction was established as an operating center under management of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA).  The DOE-funded effort to build the LSST camera is managed by the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC).
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 to promote the progress of science. NSF supports basic research and people to create knowledge that transforms the future.   




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