Sunday, January 20, 2008


January 4, 2008 - The Seattle Times

By Arthur H. Rotstein
The Associated Press

Sent in by Bob Gribble

TUCSON, AZ - A multi-partner project to build a pioneering telescope in Chile received a $30 million boost Thursday with donations from Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and former company executive Charles Simonyl.

Simonyl is donating $20 million and Gates $10 million to pay for three major mirrors that will be used in the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, a nearly $400 million project that will be able to survey the entire sky every three nights - something never done before.

Astronomers anticipate surveying the heavens for 10 years, with observations starting in 2015.

"People can find out what's going on everywhere in the sky, and no one has ever done that before - not even come close," said Donald Sweeney, manager of the LSST Project, a public-private partnership headquartered in Tucson and comprising 23 universities, national laboratories and private entities.

The telescope is to be built on 9,000-foot Cerro Pachon in Northern Chile, near the town of LaSerena, and will be compact. Sweeney described it as essentially cube-shaped about 29 1/2 feet wide by about 23 feet in length and able to move quickly.

The telescope will take an image every 15 seconds nightly and its camera - the world's largest and most powerful digital device - will read out the image in two seconds.

With the telescope operating, he said, scientists will be able to quickly find Earth-threatening asteroids and exploding stars called supernovas and will be able to map out 100 billion galaxies.

Gates gave his donation directly, while the other gift came from the Charles Simonyl fund for Arts and Sciences, Jacoby said.

Through spokeswoman Lee Keller, Simonyl said he was attracted to the project through "its imaginative use of technology to create a new view of our universe."

Gates called the telescope imaginative in its technology and approach.

"LSST is truly an Internet telescope, which will put terabytes of data each night into the hands of anyone that wants to explore it," he said.

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