Public Release: 

George Mason University partners with top-ranked telescope project to create movie of the entire sky

George Mason University

FAIRFAX, Va.--George Mason University is one of the newest partners of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) project, the university announced today.

The LSST project was listed on Friday as top priority in large ground-based astronomical facilities by the prestigious "New Worlds and New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics" committee convened by the National Research Council for the National Academy of Sciences. The so-called "Astro2010" report recommended that LSST be immediately considered for federal funding.

The telescope, which researchers hope will be built and on-line by the end of the decade, will create a 10-year movie of the section of sky visible from its perch atop a mountain in South America. It will survey the sky deeply in multiple colors every three days with its three-billion pixel digital camera, probing the mysteries of Dark Matter and Dark Energy in order to map the dynamic changing universe. The telescope, with its 27-foot diameter primary observing mirror, will discover and track faint objects near and far, such as the millions of small asteroids within our solar system, supernovae in the most distant galaxies, and any other object that changes its brightness or its position in the sky.

Mason's role in the LSST project will involve designing the data mining techniques that will sift through all of the massive amounts of data gathered and analyzed by the telescope. Kirk Borne, associate professor of astrophysics and computational sciences at Mason, will be the liaison for the project and serve on the LSST board of advisors. He is also leading a nation-wide scientific collaboration group that will conduct data science research with the LSST data repository, which will be one of the largest scientific databases ever assembled. The LSST data archive will consist of nearly 100 petabytes of data, roughly equivalent to 100 times all of the words printed in all of the books in all of the libraries in the world.

"The LSST project team will provide open public access to all of these data - it will be the telescope for everyone," says Borne. "The scientific knowledge discovery potential of the LSST database is staggering, and the data mining techniques developed by our Mason scientists will enable countless new astronomical discoveries."

Another major component of the LSST project will be its far-reaching educational initiatives. Researchers at Mason will work closely with LSST on developing projects, online activities, and media-rich experiences devoted to educating the general public about the telescope and its scientific activities. Mason's scientists will also potentially contribute to an evolution in science education at a national level, through which students and educators carry out authentic scientific inquiries in the classroom.

"This is a very exciting piece of the puzzle because we want people to be involved and interested in the project," says Borne. "With citizen science projects on the rise, people love the prospect of doing real science and being a valuable part of data collecting. Perhaps some student doing a science fair project or an interested citizen using a smart phone application will help us to find the next big thing in astronomy."

The Astro2010 report is a decadal survey that reviews and recommends the most important science research projects. It has been a major influence over such monumental projects as the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes.

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About George Mason University

Named the #1 national university to watch in the 2009 rankings of U.S. News & World Report, George Mason University is an innovative, entrepreneurial institution with global distinction in a range of academic fields. Located in Northern Virginia near Washington, D.C., Mason provides students access to diverse cultural experiences and the most sought-after internships and employers in the country. Mason offers strong undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering and information technology, organizational psychology, health care and visual and performing arts. With Mason professors conducting groundbreaking research in areas such as climate change, public policy and the biosciences, George Mason University is a leading example of the modern, public university. George Mason University--Where Innovation Is Tradition.

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