The greatest movie ever made: directed by astronomers, starring our Universe

The World’s first motion picture of our Universe, being dubbed the ‘greatest movie ever made’, is to be produced by international astronomers.

The film, which could feature dangerous asteroids and uncover some of the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy, will be recorded on a giant digital camera comprising 3.2 billion pixels.

Artist's impression of LSST

An artist's impression of how the telescope will look inside (Credit: LSST)

It hasn’t been completed yet, but when it is, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will be the World’s largest digital camera. It will be able to take images of the sky that each cover over 40 times the area of the moon, building up a survey of the entire visible sky in just three nights.

That means billions of galaxies, stars and solar system objects will be seen for the first time and monitored over ten years.

UK astronomers, including astrophysicists from the University of Bath, will now play a key part after funding from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) confirmed the UK’s participation.

Head of Astrophysics, Professor Carole Mundell, represents the University at the UK LSST Consortium and leads the UK Science Working Group on Active Galactic Nuclei. Last week she was also selected to represent the UK in providing scientific expertise at the USA LSST Active Galactic Nuclei Science Collaboration.

She commented: “This project is really exciting. The Bath Astrophysics Group leads projects in time domain astrophysics, quasar and galaxy evolution and cosmology and so the LSST will be a key facility in the coming decade for our group's research interests.”

Steven Kahn, the LSST Director said: “I am delighted that STFC is supporting UK participation in LSST. It is great to see UK astronomers engaging in preparation for LSST, and we look forward to seeing our collaboration develop over the coming years. LSST will be one of the foremost astronomy projects in the next decades and the UK astronomical community will contribute strongly to its success.”

The telescope is being built in the Chilean Andes. Conditions there are some of the driest on Earth, making it the ideal position for observing.

Artist's impression of how the telescope will look in the Chilean Andes

The telescope will be built in the Andes in Chile, due to be operational in 2020. (Credit: LSST)

When it starts operating, it will generate one of the largest scientific datasets in the world.

The LSST is a ‘synoptic’ survey because it will form an overall view of the Universe: billions of objects will be imaged in six colours, spanning a volume of the Universe that is larger than any previously explored.

The science themes of the LSST encompass astronomy, physics, chemistry, earth science, space science, mathematics, technology and computing, fostering interdisciplinary working.

As well as providing unprecedented scientific data, the development of LSST will help train future scientists and bring advances in computing.

LSST:UK Project Leader, Bob Mann from the University of Edinburgh added: “Extracting scientific knowledge from LSST will pose major challenges in the management and analysis of data. These “Big Data” issues are seen across the commercial sector as well as in science, but astronomy provides the ideal testbed for addressing them, as our data is free from the ethical and commercial constraints found in other domains.

“Many from the generation of young researchers who develop their skills preparing for the LSST data deluge will end up applying their expertise in business or the public sector, so the impact of UK participation in LSST will be felt well beyond astrophysics.”

The benefits of the UK being a member of the LSST extend yet further. The LSST will provide unprecedented access to data, allowing for new kinds of citizen science and discovery.

Discoveries made by the LSST will also be used to construct educational materials that will be freely available to schools and the public.

The telescope will achieve first light in 2020 and its main sky survey will begin in 2022.

Like all good movie franchises, the LSST story will unfold in stages, from a preview in 2023 to a finale in 2033. Get your tickets now!

91 per cent of physics research from the University of Bath was judged to be world-leading or internationally excellent by the in the recent independently-assessed Research Excellence Framework 2014.

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