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1,400 Megapixel Pan-STARRS Telescope Comes Online

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the don't-get-your-panstarrs-in-a-bunch dept.

Earth 54

ElectricSteve writes "Astronomers in Hawaii have announced they've successfully managed to boot up the Pan-STARRS (Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System) telescope. Working from dusk to dawn every night, Pan-STARRS is able to map one-sixth of the sky each month, allowing astronomers to track all moving objects, calculate their orbits, and identify any potential threats to Earth. There are four Pan-STARRS cameras in total, each capable of capturing around 1.4 billion pixels over a sensor measuring 40 centimeters square. The focal plane of each camera contains an almost complete 64x64 array of CCD devices, each containing approximately 600x600 pixels, for a total resolution of 1.4 gigapixels."

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That's a lot of pixels (4, Insightful)

symbolset (646467) | more than 4 years ago | (#32687752)

Automation is good, but where are they going to get the humans to evaluate the gigabits per second of data? Are they looking for a volunteer effort, or have they got it?

Re:That's a lot of pixels (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32687774)

That's where the automation comes in.

Re:That's a lot of pixels (2, Informative)

aramosfet (1824288) | more than 4 years ago | (#32687794)

No, they wont be snapping an image every second, They'll be taking long exposure pics to gather enough light. so you'd be snapping just a few pics every day. That being said analyzing all those pics could take lot longer, unless they have image analysis softwares which scan, analyze them all and and flag anything unusual.

Re:That's a lot of pixels (5, Informative)

Kentari (1265084) | more than 4 years ago | (#32688040)

Actually, accumulation time for Pan-Starrs survey images is typically only around 30 seconds, which is not dramatically different from other surveys. At 2.8 gigabytes of data per image (16-bits per pixel) you are looking at a data rate of 1.50 gigabit per second.

Most of processing (calibration, star detection...) and object detection (asteroids, supernovae and other transient objects) is very automated, with minimal interference from humans. Next to the asteroid/supernova search the project will create a master sky image, adding all good images into one to create a comprehensive and deep survey of the cosmos.

Source: Pan-Starrs Website [] .

Re:That's a lot of pixels (2, Interesting)

inKubus (199753) | more than 4 years ago | (#32692396)

I think this is a really exciting project because it's the first in a long line of possibilities to take whole-sky digital movies. You could conceivably add more of these arrays to the four corners of the globe and have a whole sky image even more frequently, up to daily. Then it's just a matter of "how deep" into space you're looking, and that's where the resolution comes in. More megapixels per frame means they can use a wider focal length to see a given depth into space. The next step after you reach the daily image is to put arrays in orbit around the sun, 6 total and have a real 3d view of space. We're only in the beginning. If they had spent what they've spent on Iraq and Afghanistan on this, we would already have this. We need to get our priorities straight before we stagnate as a species. We need "future occupations" once the solar and geothermal powered robots are taking care of our food, homes, and everything else we need to survive. "Jobless recovery" means this is coming far faster than anyone wants to think.

Re:That's a lot of pixels (3, Informative)

imakemusic (1164993) | more than 4 years ago | (#32687984)

I'm no astronomer, but presumably a computer can...

1) Compare image to previous image.
2) Highlight areas where there has been a significant change.
3) ?????
4) Show these bits to a human.
5) Profit (for the human, not the computer).

Re:That's a lot of pixels (3, Funny)

strack (1051390) | more than 4 years ago | (#32688110)

id say its gonna be along the lines of ZOMG GUYZ SUPRNOVAR OVER HERE! QUICK POINT UR LOLASCOPES THIS WAI! to other large telescopes over the internet.

Re:That's a lot of pixels (1)

MattSausage (940218) | more than 4 years ago | (#32689180)


Re:That's a lot of pixels (1)

ZeroExistenZ (721849) | more than 4 years ago | (#32688144)

They could start up a SETI-like initiative, or a STARRS-picture-a-day with people (amateurs who don't know what to look for) reporting and analysing the pictures.

But then they'll have to show the pictures with UFO's as well, so they have to first process the pictures and detect metallic floating objects, and pas those to the airbrush department before releasing them to the public, obviously.

Point being, they'll always need the automated processing: be it to airbrush the UFO's out or to detect things of specific interest which a human might miss or don't know what to look for.

Re:That's a lot of pixels (2, Insightful)

chichilalescu (1647065) | more than 4 years ago | (#32688474)

it's kind of sad, but in today's big cities you can't see stars. Light pollution, smog, whatever.
personally, at some point I am going to miss them enough to go to a website where they want me to watch starry skies.

Re:That's a lot of pixels (1)

radtea (464814) | more than 4 years ago | (#32689768)

It may be a lot of pixels, but I have no idea what kind of particle they are detecting. Is it neutrinos, like the "telescope" reported yesterday, or cosmic ray muons, or something else entirely? All I know is that the system is imaging and can be focussed, and it uses CCD detection elements, which hardly narrows the field down at all.

Since apparently "telescope" no longer means "optical telescope" I'm at a loss to understand what this one is looking at without more information than what is provided in the summary.

Re:That's a lot of pixels (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32690982)

OMG, WTF? are you really this fucking dumb? Yes, we look at all the higgs bosons that come flooding in from outer space. Fuck photons. That shit is way past its prime.

Re:That's a lot of pixels (1)

spacemandave (1231398) | more than 4 years ago | (#32695610)

It's an optical telescope and it's designed for wavelengths from 450 nm to 1050 nm.

identify any potential threats to Earth. (4, Funny)

Capt_Idle (1830658) | more than 4 years ago | (#32687768)

"General, we've identified a potential threat to Earth - the machine is paying off."
"Great news, colonel. What's the next strategic step."
"Bring a towel".

Re:identify any potential threats to Earth. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32687790)

Here's the thing, Capt. Idle, I know where you live, and I seriously want to fuck you up the ass while a midget licks your nut sack. My dream date with you involves you huge fire hose shooting it's gigantic load over your head and into my mouth. Can we arrange this? Are you interested? Leave a message here and I'll get you my email. Seriously.

Re:identify any potential threats to Earth. (5, Funny)

Capt_Idle (1830658) | more than 4 years ago | (#32688142)

Dear Mr. Coward. Although your gesture is very poetic, and indeed almost sexual, it's entirely against protocol.
You can't seriously expect me to accept your offer without orders signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months, can you.

Re:identify any potential threats to Earth. (1)

Huluvu (1371705) | more than 4 years ago | (#32688812)

ty /. commenters for being that awesome :D 3

contributions from amateurs (1)

Councilor Hart (673770) | more than 4 years ago | (#32687808)

Are there still areas in which amateur astronomers can contribute to science?

Wasn't hunting for and tracking of objects in the solar system one of the last refuges for those amateurs?

Re:contributions from amateurs (5, Informative)

lollacopter (1758854) | more than 4 years ago | (#32687970)

Some amateurs assist these kinds of projects via sites such ash [] which is a site that asks you to classify galaxies into types such as clockwise-spiral or elliptical etc. I know I like doing this as the skies around where I live are very light polluted so its nice to assist in some way I can, and there is just so much data to go through that all eyeballs are appreciated

Re:contributions from amateurs (1)

Kentari (1265084) | more than 4 years ago | (#32688238)

With the advent of Pan-Starrs and LSST, discovering objects will become a lot harder for amateurs, which is already quite hard with LINEAR, CSS, SDSS, ... taking the bulk of discoveries of comets, asteroids and supernovae. There will still be some opportunities. I these surveys generally do not operate during dusk and dawn, creating a gap where amateurs can look for comets and supernovae. Some amateurs [] already do this to beat LINEAR, CSS and other surveys.

Amateurs have two huge advantages over professionals: time and numbers. An amateur can devote years to a dedicated observation program, monitoring the same object for hours after each other, and they can band together to create a large geographical coverage. These are thing pro's can only do on very special occasions. Some examples are:

  • Occultations of stars by asteroids: Geographical coverage is very important to get the best data. You cannot move professional observatories to the narrow path of these occultations, often only miles wide. These observations can be used to refine the orbits of the asteroids involved, and give better size and shape estimates.
  • Fireball and meteor observations: again geographical coverage is essential. This used to be a mostly visual branch of observations, but in the past years photographic and video observations have lead to a great increase of observations and led to the discovery of new swarms, better forecasts of outbursts, etc... Needless to say that knowledge in this field is pretty interesting for the space industry.
  • Photometry of variable stars, comets and asteroids: Surveys such as Pan-Starrs can only image an object once a day or less, while prolonged fine grained observations can lead to better insights. Outbursts (large increases in brightness) of comets are often discovered by amateurs, because professionals cannot track all comets (dozens at each given moment). Asteroid ligthcurves can give insight in their shape and rotation period. Lightcurves of variable stars are valuable sources of data. Amateurs are almost always the discoverers of outburst of unpredictable or cataclysmic variables.
  • Some amateurs have embarked on exo-planet searches with the transit method, which again amounts to monitoring stars on a fine grained timescale. Except for redetections of known exoplanets I do not know of any success here.

Re:contributions from amateurs (1)

Threni (635302) | more than 4 years ago | (#32689000)

Look for asteroids between the earth and the sun. That's where the threat to life on earth is, and no-one's taking it that seriously.

Re:contributions from amateurs (1)

Sperbels (1008585) | more than 4 years ago | (#32690092)

No-one except everyone who's searching for Pan-Starrs, LINEAR, CSS, SDSS, and all those amateurs. If you're thinking we can't see asteroids between the earth and sun because of the sun's glare, you might want to go look at a sky chart and check to see if you can see Venus and Mercury in the night sky. And anyway, near earth asteroids aren't necessary always between the earth and sun, they cross outside the earth's orbit too.

what would you call this resolution? (2, Funny)

aramosfet (1824288) | more than 4 years ago | (#32687830)

If we could build giant LCD with 38,400x38,400 resolution, what would you call it, UUUQSXGA+++ ?

Re:what would you call this resolution? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32688480)

How about one that is 35840x8000?

Re:what would you call this resolution? (1)

NotBornYesterday (1093817) | more than 4 years ago | (#32689060)

1400 megapixel cameras will be standard in cell phones within 5 years. And their pictures will still look shitty and blurry.

(cue the mmm ... 1400 megapixel pron jokes in 3 ... 2 .. 1 ... )

Slow Boot Times? (1)

pinkushun (1467193) | more than 4 years ago | (#32687836)

This story [] started back in Nov 2008, it took them 7 months to boot this thing up?! Must be an embedded system.

Sign Me Up!!! (5, Funny)

Cyberia (70947) | more than 4 years ago | (#32687844)

AWWW RIGHT!!!! Where do I sign up? oh wait, Pan-STARSS... nevermind... thought it read 1,400 Megapixel Porn-STARSS.....

Re:Sign Me Up!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32699094)

Porn is better in low def

Re:Sign Me Up!!! (1)

Genda (560240) | more than 4 years ago | (#32701392)

I'd have to agree... at 1.4 Gigapixels, you're gonna see skin mites, bacteria, fungus, folds and crinkles, and hairs that would shock lumberjacks... way, way, way, too much information...

No match for... (2, Funny)

cybereal (621599) | more than 4 years ago | (#32687862)

Well that's great, it's nice to be able to see distant objects.

But what if you want to SMELL distant objects! yeah! That's why it's no match for my smell-o-scope here. Now that I've perfected the stench coils and installed an automatic lens-cheese remover, you can rest easy knowing you'll soon be smelling astronomical odors thanks to me! // Yay Futurama is back!

40 centimeters square? (2)

Barnett (550375) | more than 4 years ago | (#32687940)

What is 40 centimeters square? Is it 40cm x 40cm, or 40 square centimeters (40cm)?

Re:40 centimeters square? (1)

imakemusic (1164993) | more than 4 years ago | (#32688016)

40cm is 40cm. And stop calling me a square.

Re:40 centimeters square? (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 4 years ago | (#32688482)

A centimetre is a measure of length. Therefore a square centimetre is a centimetre horizontally, and a centimetre vertically, making one centimetre square. 40 centimetre square is 40 centimetres horizontally, and 40 centimetres vertically. It gives you one dimension (horizontal) and the "square" implies the shape of the object, so the second dimension is also 40cm.

It's a 1600cm^2 sensor.

Re:40 centimeters square? = Earthquake! (1)

bigrockpeltr (1752472) | more than 4 years ago | (#32689500)

40 cm square = (4 0x40) square cm === segmentation fault => EARTHQUAKE!!!!

Bad article (2, Informative)

Kentari (1265084) | more than 4 years ago | (#32687986)

Better information, though not of great quantity is found on the Pan=Starrs website [] .

What is now online is the PS1 prototype on Haleakala. PS4 is the final goal of this project, which is basically 4 PS1 units each equipped with 1 1.4 Gigapixel camera, to be build on Mauna Kea. As usual there are delays and the project focus is now bringing PS1 to "full survey" status (which seems to be completed) and building the PS2 telescope, also on Haleakala.

Re:Bad article (1)

Shag (3737) | more than 4 years ago | (#32688632)

Parent nailed it. To fill in a little bit - Pan-STARRS 1 was supposed to be operational for science by mid-late 2008, and the PS1 funders had agreed that if that were the case, they'd fund PS4. Due to some glitches in design of the secondary mirror truss or something, PS1 didn't give good results on time, and had to be reworked a little bit before it finally got rolling back around this February. They're looking for new/additional funders to finish the final system on Mauna Kea.

I worked for the Institute for Astronomy from 2004-2009, and when I started there, Pan-STARRS was showing up in PowerPoints as "coming in 2008" on Mauna Kea. Now it's "2013 if we're lucky, 2014 if we're realistic."

Looking in the wrong direction? (4, Insightful)

Psaakyrn (838406) | more than 4 years ago | (#32688098)

Somehow, I think there are more threats to Earth down here than up there..

Re:Looking in the wrong direction? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32688418)

If only there was more than one human being alive on the earth so that we might be able to address more than one threat at a time. Oh wait...

Re:Looking in the wrong direction? (1)

turing_m (1030530) | more than 4 years ago | (#32689174)

Somehow, I think there are more threats to Earth down here than up there..

At least the ones up there might be easily preventable, and immensely catastrophic if not corrected. If we knew an asteroid was on a collision course towards earth, we'd find a way to stop it, given enough time. And it would be worth it.

The threats to earth from down here... most of them are higher probability but less devastating. And doing something to prevent them would mean that people might have to tolerate a bit of discomfort for an (at the time) uncertain result. Their lives would be a little more difficult. Probably not as difficult as any time in history before the 20th century, but difficult enough that the opposition party would be voted in at the next election. Yay for democracy.

Re:Looking in the wrong direction? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#32689832)

Somehow, I think there are more threats to Earth down here than up there..

There's an effectively limitless supply of threats "up there". Any good-sized rock could kill us all. You could rephrase your statement in terms of probability...

Re:Looking in the wrong direction? (1)

Sperbels (1008585) | more than 4 years ago | (#32691546)

Somehow, I think there are more threats to Earth down here than up there..

I hope you're not suggesting that we just abandon all non-humanist spending and use it to feed the poor, or build wind turbines? I can understand (barely) diverting money from the human space's fairly expensive. But a ground based telescope? If you don't think there's a threat to earth, just ask a dinosaur ( [] ) or maybe ask Jupiter ( [] )

Re:Looking in the wrong direction? (1)

GrumblyStuff (870046) | more than 4 years ago | (#32698760)

Nah. Nothing on Earth will destroy the planet. Now wipe out all life that supports humanity... possible. Wipe out all life? Also nah. If nothing else lives, there will still be bacteria somewhere.

Re:Looking in the wrong direction? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32707966)

Somehow, I think there are more threats to Earth down here than up there..

Sorry, that is just not correct.

If, however, you mean threats to humans or just life in general, then you might be correct. But last time I checked, there really isn't anything "down here" that poses any threat to the Earth itself. Which only really leaves stuff running into us, or something blowing up from outside Earth orbit.


aiht (1017790) | more than 4 years ago | (#32688394)


1.2 MegaVoxels for teh win! Yea! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32688848)

My PORRRN-star telescope is bigger than urse! And it comes online and offline too!

So who do I sell... (1)

PerfectionLost (1004287) | more than 4 years ago | (#32690008)

So who do I sell the hard disks to?

Hmmmmm... (0, Flamebait)

yargnad (1456405) | more than 4 years ago | (#32690618)

A hi-res telescope array in the S. Pacific on US soil, that can track any object in the sky and funded by the USAF? Are you sure this is for astronomical uses? What does Kim Jung-IL think of this? So many more questions....

Re:Hmmmmm... (1)

yargnad (1456405) | more than 4 years ago | (#32838930)

Who is the tard that moderated this comment down? Apparently, /. has lost it's sense of humor. Really? Flamebait? Tards.

Not "any" threats (2, Funny)

Len (89493) | more than 4 years ago | (#32691066)

The article says Pan-STARRS can "identify any potential threats to Earth", but it can only find asteroids and comets that are about to hit us. They don't claim to be able to spot other threats, such as:

  • Dalek invasion fleet
  • Berserker machines
  • Chain reaction of supernovae
  • Radiation front from the collapse of the galactic core
  • Borg attack from the future
  • Galaxy-wide iPhone recall

Stupid gadget blogs, over-hyping stuff as usual.

Why 0.36 megapixel chips? (1)

randall77 (1069956) | more than 4 years ago | (#32694824)

Why are they using 600x600 CCDs? That's only 0.36 megapixels. Surely there are more advanced CCDs than that.

Re:Why 0.36 megapixel chips? (1)

Genda (560240) | more than 4 years ago | (#32701402)

Because the 600 x 600 pixel chips are large and fantastic light buckets... each pixel is capable of collecting many photons because it's relatively large. Light gathering is the name of the game in astronomy.

Re:Why 0.36 megapixel chips? (1)

randall77 (1069956) | more than 4 years ago | (#32702994)

But large isn't the factor that matters - you can always change a secondary mirror to make the image as large or as small as you want. If by "fantastic light buckets" you mean they are very sensitive, that could be a reason.

What's with the wait? (1)

yargnad (1456405) | more than 4 years ago | (#32838844)

Why am I having to wait so many minutes to post a comment? Do you think I have time to just sit around here and post comments on your schedule? A little help here. I thought we were all working to increase the speed of the internet and here you are slowing us down.
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