Wayne State University

WSU researcher receives grant to bring images of distant universe to the Internet in real time

DETROIT– It will provide the widest, fastest and deepest images of space ever captured and provide clues to the fate of the universe – and thanks to a Wayne State researcher, its images will be available to the public.

David Cinabro, Ph.D., professor of physics in WSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and resident of Dearborn, Mich., received a $258,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop the data processing portion of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, or LSST.

The LSST is a powerful, wide-field "survey" telescope that will be able to scan the entire sky in three days and will be used to create a 3D map of the universe. The telescope’s rapid-fire, three billion pixel digital camera will open a movie-like window of the sky, allowing observers to view objects a hundred million times fainter than can be observed with the unaided eye. Anyone with an Internet connection will be able to view the telescope’s images in real time, enabling both students and the public to participate in the process of scientific discovery.

Cinabro will be working on the design and implementation of the software that will enable the telescope’s images to be broadcast on the Internet 30 seconds after they are captured. “It’s an extremely ambitious undertaking,” Cinabro said. “But in addition to advancing our understanding of the fate of the universe, the technology has the potential to evolve into other beneficial applications, some of which are impossible to foresee.”

Proposed applications for the LSST include detecting and tracking potentially hazardous asteroids that might impact the earth and cause significant damage. The telescope will also provide highly anticipated information on dark energy – the mysterious force that is causing the universe to expand at an ever increasing rate. “This nature of dark energy is terribly fascinating,” Cinabro said. “It’s the biggest mystery in science today.”

Cinabro’s work on the LSST will be a continuation of his contributions to the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), the most influential survey in the history of astronomy. The SDSS’s measurements of hundreds of millions of galaxies, stars and celestial objects confirmed that the universe is in fact expanding – a theory that had been proposed by astronomers for 80 years. To understand the force causing the expansion, astronomers will use the LSST to gather information on Type Ia supernovae, star explosions that enable the measurement of cosmological distances.

The LSST is set for construction in 2010 on Cerro Pachón, a mountain in the Andes of Chile, and will begin being used in 2015. Once it is complete, Cinabro intends to use it for supernova cosmology studies in hopes to unravel this mystery of the universe. The information gathered from the LSST will also be used in classes and outreach activities, including the Research Experience for Undergrads and Research Experience for Teachers programs at WSU.

“The mystery makes for great motivation for students too,” Cinabro said. “When professors have to say to their classes, ‘We don’t know the answer to this either,’ I think that motivates everyone. The research to be done using the LSST will be driven by our collective curiosity.”

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Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information on research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.

 Media Contact: Amy Oprean - oprean@wayne.edu