Sunday, February 15, 2009

Giga Pixels

When photographing flowers or birds or even your pet, megapixels are usually enough. A fifteen megapixels image of Fido will render a suitably sharp 11x14 inch image perfectly suited for hanging on the wall. If you had a larger job in mind that required more detail, how many pixels would you need? How about 1.44 Gigapixels?

With the fate of Earth on the line, PAN-STARRS scientist's need every one of the 1,440,000,000 pixels that the PAN-STARRS telescope's camera will create. Within each image will be billions upon billions of stars and within those billions of stars, a far off earth bound asteroid large enough to destroy earth will need to be spotted.

This may sound like some sort of Dick Tracy fiction but in December of 2008 this became a reality. The project PAN-STARRS, short for 'Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System' uses the world's largest digital camera to keep an eye out for Earth bound asteroids. The immediate goal of Pan-STARRS is to discover and characterize Earth-approaching objects, both asteroids & comets, that might pose a danger to our planet.

John Tonry looking at the detectors for the Gigapixel camera
A look at one of the four 1.44 Gigapixel PAN-STARRS image sensors. (Image courtesy of the Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawai`i)

Phase 1 of the telescope is now on-line and it has recently discovered its very first Super Nova in January of this year. The final assembly will have four 1.8 meter mirrors and four 1.44 billion pixel sensors and will sport on-chip image stabilization. The created images will be 38,000 by 38,000 pixels each.

For more information on PAN-STARRS check out their site here:

Also, 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy. For more information check it out here:

© 2009 Francois Cleroux

(Version 1.00 - February 2009)

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- Francois Cleroux