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A day in the life of Large Synoptic Survey Telescope employees at NCSA

The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) under construction in Chile will begin taking images in 2021—enabling a new age of cosmic discovery with the most detailed pictures ever taken from Earth. The 3.2 gigapixel camera will take over 800 pairs of panoramic photos each night. Within seconds, the photos will be sent to the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) for processing that “notices”—by way of automated algorithms—any differences between the paired photos, indicating an astronomical event or phenomenon. A new supernova for example, or an asteroid passing near Earth, would trigger an alert emanating from NCSA for scientists across the globe. Over the 10-year survey, NCSA will be the main LSST data center, archiving all images and catalogs of astronomical objects and making these data available to astronomers for scientific analysis.

The systems that will accomplish NCSA’s diverse responsibilities within the LSST project are works in progress, with more than 30 NCSA employees involved in their construction. Follow the photo essay—part of the team’s new ‘day in the life’ series—to see where they are now, and what they still need to do by 2021.

“We don’t flip the switch and hope that everything works in 2021,” says Jason Alt, system management lead for the LSST project. He coordinates system development with NCSA’s part of the project, and is seated in the far right in the above image, back during a weekly group meeting.

A senior systems engineer sets up the first version of the LSST project’s “verification cluster.” Using data from another NCSA-hosted project, the Dark Energy Survey, team members will soon begin test driving the cluster to build and verify the production services NCSA will use to generate annual science data releases. They call it the first version because, “by the time the telescope is live, we will start rolling refreshes of hardware which will continue over the 10 years of the project” says Bill Glick, a systems engineer not featured in the above photo.

A timelapse from the first day of installation for the verification cluster.

Senior research programmer Jim Parsons works on code for the alert system. His software reads pixel data from the LSST camera, packages them into images, and sends them to NCSA for fast processing.

Research scientist Margaret Johnson, part of the steering committee for the LSST project at NCSA, works in the committee’s collaborative office, preparing plans for LSST operations. The office has three clocks tracking the time zones for collaborators across the country.

Watch a compilation of more media from the project, most of which are renderings of the Chilean telescope:

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