With a 1,400 megapixel camera, a new telescope perched high on Maui's Haleakala volcano peak is capturing pictures of the night sky in unprecedented quality in an attempt to target potential asteroid threats.
The search for potentially killer asteroids — known as the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) — began last month, and will run for another three years. The PS1, as the new prototype telescope is called, isn't large, as telescopes go; its main mirror is only 1.8 meters wide.
"Although modest in size, this telescope is on the cutting edge of technology," said astronomer Nick Kaiser, who is leading the asteroid hunt. "It can image a patch of sky about 40 times the area of the full moon, much larger than any similar-sized telescope on Earth or in space."
Over the next three years, the new telescope is expected to find 100,000 asteroids and determine which, if any, pose a collision threat to Earth, researchers said. The observatory should also catalog about five billion stars and 500 million galaxies, they added.
The new telescope is designed to take more than 500 photos of the sky every night and send four terabytes of data (the equivalent of 1,000 DVDs) to the Maui High Performance Computing Center for analysis. The computing center will compare the images with each other and older observations to find any objects that have moved or changed in brightness.