Yes, you read that correctly. A 1.4 billion pixel (or 1400 megapixel) camera will scan the night’s sky looking for renegade near-Earth objects from atop Mount Haleakala in Maui Island, Hawaii. This will be the world’s largest digital camera. It’s main focus is to be used to keep an eye out for asteroids heading towards Earth. The Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) has been built by researchers at MIT’s Lincoln Lab. To remove atmospheric blur from images, the system uses something called an Orthogonal Transfer CCD (Charge Coupled Device).
To compare just how big the CCD cameras are is mind blowing to those of us who use the usual PHD cameras (Push Here, Dummy!). Each camera will have about 1.4 billion pixels spread over an area about 40 centimeters square. A typical domestic digital camera contains about 5 million pixels on a chip a few millimeters across. Hence, the four PanSTARRS cameras will each be the largest digital cameras ever built.
A specific component allowing for image motion compensation in the focal plane will be included. This device is called an Orthogonal Transfer Charge Coupled Device (OTCCD). As explained on the Pan-Starrs website “During an exposure, selected bright stars have their positions rapidly monitored in order to calculate the immediate effects of atmospheric phase fluctuations. In a traditional “tip-tilt” adaptive optics system, these position errors are fed back to a small mirror whose angle is rapidly adjusted to compensate for the atmospheric disturbance. An OTCCD achieves the same goal by electronically shifting the image within the CCD itself rather than by moving a mirror.”
One last thought on the grand scale of this camera. You can buy a 5 megapixel camera in the range of $50 and up. The most expensive digital camera on Amazon.com is a 22 megapixel Mamiya camera for just shy of $7,000.00. Hmmm…. so the asteroid hunting Hawaiian camera is 1400 megapixels…. wow…. you do the economics.