Use Google To Search The Heavens

Google hasjoined the LargeSynoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) Project, which intends to complete theworld's largest survey telescopeby 2013. Google will work with nineteen universities and national labs that aredesigning and building the telescope.

The proposed telescopeitself will be a ground-based 8.4 meter, 10-square-degree field instrumentcapable of providing digital imaging across the entire sky. In an endlessseries of ten-second exposures, the LSST will cover the available sky everythree nights over a period of ten years. The telescope will be built atop CerroPach?n in Chile.

Image 1 of 1

The LSST camera is designedto provide a wide field of view - sampling more than 0.2 arcsecond; spectralsampling will be done in five or more bands from 400 nanometers (nm) to 1040nm. The format for the image will be a circular mosaic providing more than 3gigapixels per image. This is approximately 1,000 times the resolution of atypical digital camera photo.

Google and the LSST projectshare some important characteristics; both groups seek to organize massivequantities of data and then share it in the most useful possible form. Everynight that the LSST operates, it will store over thirty terabytes (30,000gigabytes) of data. Google will provide assistance in the following areas:

  • organizing the flow of large parallel data streams
  • processing and analyzing the data streams in a continuous 24/7, fault-tolerant manner
  • providing a dynamic view of the night sky for the lay public, as well as for specialists.

Google's VPof Engineering, William Coughran, remarked that "Google's mission is totake the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. Thedata from LSST will be an important part of the world's information, and bybeing involved in the project we hope to make it easier for that data to becomeaccessible and useful."

The LSST will helpastrophysicists explore the mysteries of darkmatter and darkenergy, as well as providing a movie-like picture of objects that changerapidly - like exploding supernovae.The LSST will also help with discovering near-Earthasteroids (it should be able to resolve objects as small as 100 meters) aswell as distant KuiperBelt objects.

This project is notGoogle's first step into the sky. Google has already collaborated with NASA in its iEarth program.

Every day, NASA's EarthObserving System (EOS) transmits terabytes of data back to ground stations. TheGoogle Earth application already provides easy access to worldwide maps. iEarthis an application that superimposes this data on top of 3D maps provided byGoogle Earth.

Picking a spot on the Earthwill prompt the application to look through EOS and convert that data into afile viewable from Google Earth.

Google's iEarth application and its collaborationwith the LSST project (iUniverse?)have a remarkable precursor in science fiction. In NealStephenson's excellent 1992 novel SnowCrash, Hiro Protagonist is given an amazing service - ordinarilyavailable only to the wealthy - for free.

There issomething new: A globe about the size of a grapefruit, a perfectly detailedrendition of Planet Earth, hanging in space at arm's length in front of hiseyes. Hiro has heard about this but never seen it. It is a piece of CICsoftware called, simply, Earth. It is the user interface that CIC uses to keeptrack of every bit of spatial information that it owns - all the maps, weatherdata, architectural plans, and satellite surveillance stuff.
(Read more about CICVirtual Earth)

Even sci-fi visionarieslike Stephenson would have called a ten year-long movie of the entireobservable universe too futuristic to be believable in a novel. Nevertheless,Google engineers will present the universe in the palm of your hand, just likeStephenson's Virtual Earth.

Read more about Google/NASAiEarth. Don't forget their obsession with the "inner space" ofhumanity's imagination; take a look at EncyclopediaGooglactica - Google To Put All Human Knowledge Online. Learn more aboutthe Large Synoptic Survey Telescope at

(This Science Fiction inthe News story used with permission from - where science meetsfiction.)

Have a news tip, correction or comment? Let us know at